The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) today answered campaigners’ calls for new guidance for prosecutors to give people with mental illness and learning disabilities a fair hearing in court.
The separate policy statements clarify how prosecutors should support victims and witnesses from these vulnerable groups.
The move follows a landmark court decision earlier this year in which the High Court criticised the CPS for abandoning a prosecution because a victim with psychosis who had part of his ear bitten off was believed to be an unreliable witness.
Public apology from DPP
Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer, the head of the CPS, offered a public apology to the man in the wake of the case.
Campaign groups such as the mental health charity Mind have been calling for prosecutors to receive mental health awareness training and guidance to stop psychiatric evidence from being used inappropriately in court.
Announcing the publications, Starmer said: “Victims and witnesses who have mental health issues or a learning disability must have the same opportunity as anyone else to give evidence and to have that evidence treated seriously. They should have the same access to justice as any other victim or witness.”
Prosecutors ‘must not base decisions on stereotypes’
He added that prosecutors must not make decisions based on assumptions and stereotypes “and must have a better understanding of the relevant issues”.
Starmer said prosecutors should obtain professional advice if they have good reason to be concerned about someone’s ability to give evidence and provide assistance through the prosecution service to help them give evidence.
“We will be assessing the best training we can provide to our prosecutors to increase their knowledge and understanding of these complex areas,” he added.