Effective Participation of Mentally Vulnerable Defendants in the Magistrates’ Courts in England and Wales—The ‘Front Line’ from a Legal Perspective

DOI10.1177/0022018320957110
AuthorHelen Howard
Publication Date01 Feb 2021
SubjectArticles
Article
Effective Participation of Mentally
Vulnerable Defendants in the
Magistrates’ Courts in England
and Wales—The ‘Front Line’
from a Legal Perspective
Helen Howard
Teesside University, UK
Abstract
Mentally vulnerable defendants who struggle to effectively participate in their trial in the
magistrates’ courts are not receiving the same protection as those who stand trial in the
Crown Court. The Law Commission for England and Wales recognised this lacuna and sug-
gested that the law relating to effective participation should be equally applicable in the
magistrates’ courts. On closer examination of the law, the legal aid system and perspectives of
legal professionals on the ‘front line’, it is clear that improvements in policy are of greater
importance than legal reform and are more likely to meet the needs of these vulnerable
individuals. The aim of this paper will be to demonstrate that reform of the law will be
insufficient to adequately protect mentally vulnerable defendants in the magistrates’ courts and
that changes in policy are needed in place of, or alongside, legal reforms.
Keywords
Effective participation, mentally vulnerable defendants, magistrates’ courts
Introduction
Mentally vulnerable defendants
1
who struggle to effectively participate in their trial in the magistrates’
courts are not receiving the same protection as those who stand trial in the Crown Court.
2
The Law
Commission for England and Wales recognised this lacuna and suggested that the law in relation to
Corresponding author:
Helen Howard, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law, Teesside University, Middlesbrough TS1 3BX, UK.
E-mail: h.a.howard@tees.ac.uk
1. For the purpose of this research, the ‘mentally vulnerable defendant’ will be defined in the broadest sense to include the
defendant suffering from any mental disorder/learning difficulty which might compromise his/her ability to stand trial.
2. Youth courts are similarly overlooked but the focus here will be on adult defendants.
The Journal of Criminal Law
2021, Vol. 85(1) 3–16
ªThe Author(s) 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/0022018320957110
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