A new guideline for sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders and neurological impairments has been published by the Sentencing Council.
The new ‘Overarching principles: Sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders, or neurological impairments’ guideline provides clarity and transparency around the sentencing process for this group of offenders.
Evidence suggests that people in the criminal justice system are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than the general population: for example, when a survey screened prisoners on arrival at prison, 23 per cent reported that they had some prior contact with mental health services.
For the first time, judges and magistrates will have guidelines to assist them in sentencing in this difficult and complex area.
The guideline, which will come into force on 1 October 2020, applies to adults who at the time of the offence, and/or at the time of sentencing, have disorders or impairments such as:
The guideline stipulates that, when assessing whether an offender’s impairment or disorder will have any impact on sentencing, the court should take an individualistic approach and focus on the issues in the case. Levels of impairment caused by any condition will vary significantly between individuals.
The fact that an offender has an impairment or disorder should always be considered by the court, but it will not necessarily have an impact on sentencing. For serious offences, the court must also bear in mind the protection of the public.
Courts should always be aware of the impact of an impairment or disorder on an offender’s ability to understand and participate in proceedings. When determining the level of culpability, courts should make an initial assessment in accordance with any relevant offence-specific guideline, and should then consider whether culpability was reduced by reason of the impairment or disorder.
Factors the courts should consider include:
The guideline sets out a range of sentences available including fines/discharge, community orders, Mental Health Treatment Requirements, drug and alcohol treatment orders and custody.
When considering which type of sentence to impose, courts should consider:
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