Proposals for sentencing offenders with mental health conditions published

Proposed guidance for sentencing offenders with mental health conditions and disorders was published today in a consultation launched by the Sentencing Council.

When the guidance is published in its final form, judges and magistrates in England and Wales will, for the first time, have a clear structure and process to follow when sentencing people with mental health conditions and disorders, and those with learning disabilities, autism, brain injury, substance misuse disorders and dementia.

The Overarching Principles: Sentencing Offenders with Mental Health Conditions or Disorders guideline, now in consultation, will help judges and magistrates assess how much responsibility offenders retain for their crime, given their particular condition and how it affects them. It will be used in conjunction with offence specific guidelines.

The draft guideline sets out proposed general principles for sentencing, including that:

  • The approach taken by the courts should focus on individual circumstances, because the level of impairment caused by any condition will vary significantly between offenders and some mental health conditions are not obvious.
  • The rights and needs of offenders should be balanced with the protection of the public, and the recognition of the rights and needs of victims/families to feel safe.
  • The courts should decide how much responsibility the offender retains for the offence, given the particular order or condition and the specifics of the case.
  • Courts should carefully consider all the facts in each case, including what is practically available, before deciding on the sentence.

The Sentencing Council is asking judges, magistrates and others interested in criminal justice for their views on the proposals in the draft guideline. The consultation is open until 9 July 2019.

Sentencing Council Member Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean said:

“As a society we are becoming increasingly aware of the prevalence of mental health conditions and disorders, particularly among people in the criminal justice system.

“The Council believes that offenders who have a mental health condition or disorder, neurological impairment or developmental disorder should be confident that the Court has the information it needs to take a consistent approach to sentencing and pass an appropriate sentence.

“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.”

Lucy Schonegevel, head of health influencing at Rethink Mental Illness said:

“This is a big step towards the justice system having a better understanding of mental illness, as it’s the first time there will be specific sentencing guidelines in this area.  In practice it will mean that people affected by mental illness who are in contact with the criminal justice system will have their illness properly taken into account, and in a consistent way.”

The guideline is not intended to change sentencing practice but to promote consistency of approach by providing sentencers in all courts with a single, coherent sentencing framework.

It will guide judges and magistrates through a series of questions to help them determine the offender’s level of responsibility, for example if their condition impaired their ability to make rational choices.