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Offenders: Learning Disability and Mental Illness

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 20th May 2020.

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Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Labour

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to protect people with (1) mental health conditions, and (2) learning disabilities, who have been arrested and are required to appear in a magistrates court, from COVID-19.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

Services within HMCTS are adjusting to Covid-19 at an agile pace. We’re doing everything possible to ensure any potential negative impacts are identified and mitigated for vulnerable users, by putting the right support in place for them.

Levels of compliance with social distancing by criminal courts are high. HMCTS are following Public Health guidance to ensure that our courts and tribunals support proper social distancing measures for everyone who uses and works in them.

Working with the judiciary, we have agreed how to prioritise the most urgent cases and moved to hear many more cases remotely by telephone or video wherever possible and appropriate. We are clear that audio and video hearings provide an additional channel for conducting a hearing and should be as accessible as possible. The decision to hold a hearing by telephone or video is for the judge, panel or magistrate, taking into account the needs of the parties, including any disability or difficulties with access.

We work with the advice sector to fully understand the impacts on vulnerable people, reasonable adjustments, and reflecting up to date advice from the sector in our processes for court users to join hearings and related staff guidance. We are also planning an evaluation of the use of remote hearings during the Covid-19 outbreak. This includes exploring how remote hearing processes were implemented and worked in practice, and how experiences varied for different user groups.

Hearings in the mental health tribunal are taking place by audio and video, and the President and Deputy President of the Health, Education and Social Care chamber have issued guidance on these hearings.

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