I wouldn’t normally subject you to two blogs in one day, but I have just come across the case of Joe PARASKEVA. Joe is a young man who was sentenced to serve an IPP, or indeterminate sentence (for public protection), following a conviction for arson. This offence was committed whilst detained under s2 Mental Health Act in a Hackney psychiatric ward following which he was arrested, charged, remanded, tried and imprisoned.
His mother, Linda MORGAN, launched a campaign to have him transferred from prison to hospital, to continue to receive treatment for his mental health problems and various national charities took up his case to highlight it as being especially harsh. This case serves to demonstrate the very real challenges discussed hypothetically in previous blogs about in-patient offending and how to reach a prosecution decision. It shows how serious the consequences are.
Highlighting Joe’s case back in June, an article in the Guardian by Amelia GENTLEMAN asked the question, “Why are some mentally ill patients treated like criminals?” as if to imply a black / white distinction between mutually exclusive groups. It is this ever-offered distinction I wish to contest as it is absolutely clear to me that we must get better at recognising the grey areas which necessitate blurring it.
And we must be prepared to debate this: we cannot have a situation where we unnecessarily and outrageously criminalize (young) people with mental health problems; but nor can we have a situation where those with mental health problems who offend are unable to be held to account by the law where this is both possible and appropriate. I remind: some parts of the Mental Health Act 1983 can only be accessed via the criminal justice system. This may be right or wrong, but it is the law as it stands today.
I regularly post this on twitter; “Should offenders with mental health problems be diverted? ‘Depends; and no policy from government, police or health has ever said otherwise’.” For all the words that have been written over the decades, nothing says ALWAYS YES or ALWAYS NO. It is a complex decision with far-reaching consequences.
For this reason, not all diversion decisions should be taken by the police at the investigation stage.
Whilst being horrified about Joe’s case, one can see why he’s endured the route that he has. Clearly two psychiatrists and an AMHP felt able to ‘section’ him, originally under s2 MHA. However, the psychiatrist(s) who offered information during the criminal justice process stated he was not suffering from mental disorder. So one can at least begin to understand why a prosecution was considered?
Trust me(!), it is often a difficult task to persuade the CPS to prosecute someone who was sectioned on a mental health ward at the time of the offence but clearly the CJ process has proceeded in Joe’s case on the basis of views that following assessment under s2, Joe was not suffering from a mental disorder. This may have been right or wrong, but it appears to have been the view offered at the time. Subsequently, after conviction, further opinion has suggested in fact, that Joe does have mental health problems so thankfully he has been transferred back to hospital from prison under s47/49 and is receiving treatment and care. The originally imposed sentence can now be served out as a restricted hospital order, subject to the ongoing assessment of clinical need.
Far more generally than this one case – it is perfectly possible to suffer from mental disorder; AND to be ‘sectionable’ under the law; AND STILL be capable of understanding the nature and quality of acts done. Equally, it is perfectly possible that someone’s mental disorder and / or their treatment, may render them UNABLE to understand the nature and quality of the act done and a prosecution would not be possible. There are some cases where it may not be easy to know and a fuller psychiatric assessment may be needed and / or a fitness to plead or fitness to stand trial hearing becomes necessary.
Let us also remember, that ‘insantiy’ – a legal concept, not a medical one – is a defence, to run at trial. It is a matter for the defence to raise, not one for the prosecution to pre-emptively negate in advance.
To determine which may be the case in any particular investigation, the police, the CPS and then the courts will need INFORMATION which allows them to know or to at least infer what they may be dealing with.
<< Update – 12/12/12: Joe PARASKEVA took his case to the Court of Appeal on 12th December 2012 and after reviewing the medical evidence and securing a new update, the Court ruled that he “was suffering from a mental disorder both at the time of the offence and sentence.” As such, his sentence has been changed and he has been made subject to a Restricted Hospital Order, under section 37/41 Mental Health Act.
The Mental Health Cop blog won the Mind 2012 Digital Media Award, in memory and in honour of Mark Hanson.
The Awards celebrate the “best portrayals of and reporting on mental health in the media.”