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Mental Disorders and Sentencing - New Guidelines
- AuthorZara Cowan
A new guideline for sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders and neurological impairments has recently come into force.
The new guidelines provide transparency and clarity for sentencing offenders with development disorders, mental disorders and neurological impairments.
What are the sentencing guidelines for those with mental disorders?
For the first time, Judges and Magistrates now have guidelines to assist them in sentencing in this complex area.
The guideline, which came into force on 19th October 2020, applies to adults who at the time of the offence, and/or at the time of sentencing have impairments and disorders which include:
- Developmental disorders – such as learning disabilities and autism
- Neurological impairments such as dementia and acquired brain injury (ABI)
- Mental Disorder conditions such as depression, schizophrenia or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The guideline requires that, when considering whether an offender’s disorder or impairment should have any impact on sentencing, the court should take an individualistic approach and focus on the issues in the case.
The fact that an offender has a disorder or impairment should always be considered by the court, but it will not necessarily have an impact on the overall sentence passed.
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 can be reduced by reason of the impairment or disorder.
Factors the courts should consider include whether or not an offender was at the time of the offence suffering from an impairment but only if there is sufficient connection between the offender’s impairment or disorder and the offending behaviour.
Will the guidelines reduce my sentence?
The guideline set out a range of sentences available including fines/discharge, community orders, mental health treatment requirements, alcohol and treatment orders and custody.
When considering which type of sentence to impose, courts should consider:
- The nature of the offence for which the offender is being sentenced; and,
- Whether the impairment or disorder experienced by the offender may be relevant to the disposal, in particular disposals under powers contained in the Mental Health Act.
How can we help?
If you find yourself facing any offence it is vital to contact a solicitor as soon as possible to obtain expert legal advice. Representation at the police station is free, and legal aid may be available for your case at the Magistrates’ and Crown Court. For offences which do not qualify for legal aid, we offer fixed fees for appointments and representation.