Legal professionals and witness statements from people with a suspected mental health diagnosis

Reavey, Paula; Wilcock, Rachel; Brown, Steven D.; Batty, Richard and Fuller, Serina (2017). Legal professionals and witness statements from people with a suspected mental health diagnosis. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 46(3) pp. 94–102.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2016.02.040

Abstract

Individuals with mental health problems are considered to be part of a group labeled ‘vulnerable’ in forensic psychology literature and the legal system more generally. In producing witness statements, there are numerous guidelines in the UK, designed to facilitate the production of reliable and valid accounts by those deemed to be vulnerable witnesses. And yet, it is not entirely clear how mental health impacts on reliability and validity within the judicial system, partly due to the diversity of those who present with mental health difficulties. In this paper, we set out to explore how legal professionals operating in the UK understand the impact of mental distress on the practical production of witness testimonies. Twenty legal professionals, including police officers, judges, magistrates and detectives were involved in a semi-structured interview to examine their knowledge and experience of working with mental health problems, and how they approached and worked with this group.
A thematic analysis was conducted on the data and specific themes relevant to the overall research question are presented. These include a) dilemmas and deficiencies in knowledge of mental health, b) the abandonment of diagnosis and c) barriers to knowledge: time restrictions, silence, professional identity and fear. Finally, we explore some of the implications of these barriers, with regard to professional practice.

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