Under new proposals, judges handing sentences to criminals with mental illnesses or learning difficulties could be required to follow specific guidelines.
The proposed draft guidelines for sentences would be issued to courts in England and Wales to ensure that courts are fair when deciding how responsible mentally ill offenders are for their crimes.
Currently, pre-sentence reports are compiled for offenders, which can help the court decide which sentence to pass. Rethink Mental Illness charity says these can include information about factors such as mental health problems or drug and alcohol issues
The new proposals from the Sentencing Council for England and Wales could see some offenders with mental illnesses receive lighter sentences for their actions.
They will apply to offenders who are aged 18 and have conditions such as learning disabilities, schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress, dementia and disorders resulting from drug or alcohol misuse.
Judges and Magistrates will now need to consider several questions when determining how much of the crime which took place was due to the mental illness, including:
- Did the individual’s condition impair their ability to exercise appropriate judgment, make rational choices or think clearly?
- Did they seek help, and fail to receive appropriate treatment or care?
- Were there any elements of premeditation or pre-planning in the offence?
- If the offender exacerbated their condition by drinking or taking drugs, were they aware of the potential effects of doing so?
The guides are not aiming to change sentencing practice but instead allow judges and magistrates to follow a clear structure to determine the best way forward.
They are subject to consultation and must be followed unless a judge or magistrate considers it is not in the interests of justice to do so.
Judge Rosa Dean, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: “The offender’s mental health is just one element that the courts must consider, and the guideline strives to balance the rights and needs of offenders with protecting the public, the rights of victims and families, and their need to feel safe.”