16/09

Victims and witnesses with mental health issues or a learning disability should have access to justice

04/08/2009

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published two new public policy statements to explain how it will deal with cases involving victims and witnesses who have mental health issues or a learning disability to ensure they have access to justice.

"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.

"Successful prosecutions can only happen if victims and witnesses feel confident and capable of giving their best evidence.

"Prosecutors must make their decisions free from any assumptions or stereotypes, and must have a better understanding of the relevant issues.

"We must understand that while a victim or witness who has mental health issues or a learning disability may not at a particular time have capacity the ability to make their own decisions , with the right support, capacity may be achieved.

"Where a prosecutor has good reason to be concerned about someones ability to give evidence, they should consult the victim or witness and, where appropriate, obtain professional advice. They should also ask themselves what assistance the prosecution service can provide in order to help that person give evidence.

"It is important that prosecutors do not make assumptions that what may be appropriate in one set of circumstances is appropriate in another.

"We will be assessing the best training we can provide to our prosecutors to increase their knowledge and understanding of these complex areas.

"We sought the views of individuals as well as professionals concerned with mental health and learning disabilities and practitioners in criminal justice.  As a result, it was decided to issue two separate policy statements because people with mental health issues and people with a learning disability will require different approaches and different resources."

Legal guidance will be issued to prosecutors, setting out the relevant law, practice and procedure, so that people with mental health issues or a learning disability are given an equal opportunity to have their case heard in court.

Public policy statements explaining how the CPS will deal with cases involving victims and witnesses who have mental health issues or a learning disability can be found in the Publications section of the CPS website.