The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is often failing to allow people with mental health problems to give evidence in court, according to an inquiry by a committee of MPs.
The Commons justice committee said in its report that it was “concerned” to hear evidence that the CPS could be reluctant to recognise that people with mental health problems can be credible witnesses.
The committee also heard evidence that the CPS was failing to identify thousands of witnesses – including many with mental health conditions, learning difficulties or other impairments – who could benefit from “special measures”, such as being allowed to give their evidence via a video link.
In January, the high court found the CPS breached a man’s human rights when it decided he was not a credible witness because of his mental health history.
The CPS had abandoned a prosecution despite the man experiencing a vicious assault in which part of his ear was bitten off.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “Dropping cases on these grounds shouldn’t even be an option.
“The measures to support people with mental distress are already in place, but what we are witnessing here is institutional reluctance to treat mental health fairly and appropriately, which is standing in the way of justice.”
The committee’s report on the role of the CPS was published just three days after the CPS published two new statements explaining how it will deal with potential court cases involving victims and witnesses with learning difficulties or mental health problems.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions and head of the CPS, said people with mental health problems or learning difficulties “must have the same opportunity as anyone else to give evidence and to have that evidence treated seriously”.
The mental health statement says prosecutors should never assume that “someone is not credible or capable of giving reliable evidence just because they have a mental health issue”.
And it says credibility should only be questioned in the same circumstances as any other witness, that is “when something specific is raised which calls into question the credibility or reliability of the witness”.
Starmer said prosecutors should make decisions “free from any assumptions or stereotypes”, and victims and witnesses should be given the right support to enable them to give their evidence.
6 August 2009