Creating a fairer Britain
27 January 2009
The High Court has today ruled the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) were wrong to drop a prosecution where the victim had a history of mental illness. The CPS believed the individual, granted anonymity and known as 'FB', would not be a credible witness.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case to offer expert advice to the Court, raising concerns that assumptions about people with mental health conditions were preventing them from having full access to justice.
Separately, The Commission has met with the CPS to discuss its policies concerning the treatment of disabled victims and witnesses. The CPS has acknowledged problems in this area and is consulting with disabled groups and mental health charities on prosecuting cases involving people with mental health issues & learning difficulties as victims and witnesses. The Commission will contribute to their consultation.
FB suffered a serious assault on Boxing Day 2005. The police investigated, and the CPS decided to proceed with a prosecution. On the morning of the trial, the Senior Prosecutor decided not to proceed. The prosecution had concluded that FB would not be a credible witness because he had a history of mental health problems. FB applied for a judicial review of the decision by the High Court.
At the High Court, Lord Justice Toulson today found the CPS decision was wrong, due to either a misreading of the medical evidence (the prosecution obtained FBs medical notes which referred to a history of mental illness) or unfounded stereotyping that someone with a history of mental health problems could not be credible in court. The Court also found that FB's human rights had been breached as dropping the prosecution had amounted to a failure in provision of legal protection to FB.
In handing down today's judgement, Lord Justice Toulson said:
'In this case FB suffered a serious assault. The decision to terminate the prosecution on the eve of the trial, on the ground that it was not thought that FB could be put before the jury as a credible witness, was to add insult to injury. It was a humiliation for him and understandably caused him to feel that he was being treated as a second class citizen.'
John Wadham, Group Director, Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
'The High Court has today made it clear that disabled people, particularly those with mental health conditions, are equal to others in the eyes of the law.'
Following this significant ruling, the Commission will continue to work with the Crown Prosecution Service to help ensure their staff understand their responsibilities in their approach to victims and witnesses with mental health conditions, so that all people have fair and proper access to justice.'
For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.
FB was represented by Saimo Chalal at Bindmans LLP.
Lord Justice Toulson found that FBs human rights were breached under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. Article 3 provides:
'No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'
Following the initial CPS decision to drop the case, no new trial can proceed. In light of this, FB was awarded £8,000 compensation.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.