Saturday, 23 October 2010

Mental Health Courts

During 2009, so-called “Mental Health Courts” were piloted at Magistrates’ Courts in Brighton and Stratford and an evaluation report has been published – see “Process Evaluation of the Mental Health Court pilot” (September 2010 - Drs. Jane Winstone and Francis Pakes).   The experiences of some offenders dealt with by the “Mental Health Courts” are documented in separate reports which may be read here

If Mental Health Courts are to have any chance of success, appropriate resources are essential and so is training of the judiciary.  Community sentences can be tailored to the circumstances of the particular offender and a key element in a sentence might be periodic reviews by the court of the offender’s progress.  Such “in court” reviews have often proved to be beneficial in dealing with offenders sentenced to a drug rehabilitation requirement.

The evaluation report states that - “Extensive multi-agency collaboration and data-sharing arrangements were achieved in both sites.”  It remains to be seen whether, in these financially difficult times, such resources and training will be available at all the courts as this project is “rolled out.”  

This is an important development in criminal justice but the question remains whether it will be just another “initiative” which flounders for lack of adequate resources.  Alternatives to prison are not necessarily cheap.

Mental Health Courts have been tried in other countries – notably the USA .  For some of the literature on this see National Center for State Courts  which concludes on the positive note that Mental Health Courts showed great promise in their attempt to address the unique needs of the mentally ill who enter the criminal justice system.

Addendum 28th October:   The UK Human Rights Blog has also taken a look at Mental Health Courts.  See the item by barrister Adam Wagner - "Specialist Mental Health Courts are a good idea which may never happen" - 17th September 2010.    Please also have a look at the comments to this post, one of which is from Mr Wagner.

The criminal law and mental health have a complex and somewhat uneasy relationship.  It is hoped to explore some of those issues in later posts.


  1. Considering that in magistrates` courts it is variously estimated that 90% of offenders are intellectually challenged and/or alcohol dependant and/or drug addicts any process which removes them from a criminal/legal environment to a medical/secure environment must be a long term improvement for them and for society

  2. I have blogged on this topic (, and make the same point that MHCs are a good idea which may never happen due to budget constraints. Oh well.

  3. Which removes them from a criminalenvironment to secure environment must be a long term improvement for them and for society.

  4. Many thanks for the various comments.

    @ Adam Wagner - thank you for supplying the link to your article. An addendum to this post now draws attention to UK Human Rights Blog and to your interesting post. I hope to follow up with taking a look at some of the linked areas of law. I almost wish that I had nothing else to do but research this material !! I would, as ever, be more than grateful for any comments you wish to add to later posts.