While many will agree that the Criminal Justice System is not necessarily the most appropriate place to deal with those suffering from mental health difficulties. Unfortunately, there is, sadly, a regular overlap between the two. As a result we need to have particular skills to represent vulnerable defendants.
This means that the staff across our offices have experience of dealing with those who are vulnerable defendants, and are experienced in gaining our clients’ trust to be able to assist them throughout the court process.
During his years as a criminal defence solicitor, Chesterfield crime solicitor Ben Strelley has represented many vulnerable individuals before the court. His manner means that he has the ability to engage with clients whatever their difficulties to gain their trust.
Here is a recent example of his representation in a case that required sensitive handling.
Assault allegations against a vulnerable client
Ben’s client was an inpatient at the Hartington Mental Health Unit in Chesterfield. She faced two accusations of common assault. The complainants were two of the nurses caring for her. She faced a separate charge of causing damage at Derby hospital prior to her arrival at the unit.
Our client had no recollection of any of the incidents. She did, of course, accept that in these circumstances the staff had no reason to lie. In circumstances where a client had no such vulnerabilities then the case would normally involve straightforward advice to plead guilty. The evidence was strong and there was no defence to advance.
In the circumstances of this case, however, it was important for Ben to make further enquiries as to his client’s mental health at the time of the incident. It may be that this could afford a defence, or significant mitigation, or allow him to make representations that the prosecution is not in the public interest.
Ben investigated this aspect of the case with the prosecution. He was then provided with a medical report from a relevant doctor who confirmed that she did have the necessary capacity at the time of the assault allegations. The report was silent about her health at the time of the criminal damage matter.
As a result, Ben advised his client to plead guilty to the assaults. He was able to negotiate with the prosecution to drop the criminal damage charge. Bearing in mind the other pleas that prosecution was no longer in the public interest.
Sentence following guilty pleas
Normally an assault on a member of NHS staff while at work is likely to result in, a the very least, consideration of a prison sentence. Ben was of the view that the unique circumstances of his client’s health were such that the court ought to be of significant importance upon sentence.
In the end the Magistrates agreed with Ben. Rather than a prison sentence or community order his client received a small fine and was ordered to pay some compensation.
Ben’s client was delighted at this outcome because it meant that she would be able to continue with her treatment in the community with the aim of overcoming her acute mental health difficulties.
Instruct a criminal solicitor specialising in vulnerable defendants
Case such as this demonstrates the importance of instructing a solicitor who has compassion, patience and communication skills to achieve the best outcome for vulnerable defendants.
In this case, Ben had to gain the trust of his client, speak to the prosecution about the strength of the evidence, and then persuade Magistrates to depart from the usual sentencing guideline for cases such as this.
If you or a family member or friend are in the position of being spoken to by the police as a result of an alleged incident involving medical staff then you can contact your nearest office here.
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