Dr Saal Seneviratne

Mental Health Assessments in Criminal Courts

Components of a Mental Health Assessment

  • Psychiatric history:

    • Thorough examination of the individual’s previous mental health records, including diagnoses, treatments, and hospitalisations.
    • Analysis of medication history and its impact on the individual’s mental well-being.
  • Clinical interviews:

    • In-depth discussions with the individual to gather information about their current mental state, symptoms, and experiences.
    • Exploration of their perception of the offence, any mental health-related factors that may have influenced their actions, and their understanding of legal proceedings.
  • Psychological testing:

    • Administering standardised assessments to evaluate cognitive functioning, personality traits, and emotional well-being.
    • These tests provide objective data that helps understand the individual’s mental health status and potential underlying conditions.
  • Collateral information:

    • Obtaining input from family members, friends, or relevant professionals who have knowledge of the individual’s mental health history.
    • This additional perspective helps provide a more comprehensive picture of the individual’s mental state and functioning.

Requesting a Mental Health Assessment

  • Consult legal counsel:

  • Formal request to the court:

    • Submit a written request to the court, clearly articulating the need for a mental health assessment.
    • Explain the relevance of mental health to the case, highlighting how it may impact the individual’s capacity to understand the charges, participate in the legal process, or influence their culpability.
  • Supporting documentation:

    • Provide relevant evidence supporting the request, such as medical records, prior psychiatric evaluations, or testimony from mental health professionals.
    • If the expert is provided with basic information it will help in identifying mental health issues contributing to the misconduct and advising on treatment options available.

Criteria for Mental Health Act Assessment

  • Risk to self or others:

    • When there is a substantial concern regarding the individual’s safety or the safety of others due to their mental health condition, a Mental Health Act assessment may be necessary.
    • This criterion considers the potential harm that may arise if appropriate medical treatment or intervention is not provided.
  • Likelihood of significant deterioration in mental health:

    • If there is a reasonable belief that the individual’s mental health is deteriorating or will significantly worsen without timely assessment and treatment, a Mental Health Act assessment may be warranted.
    • This criterion prioritises early intervention to prevent further deterioration.
  • Need for medical treatment or intervention:

    • When the individual’s mental health condition requires medical treatment, therapy, or specialised intervention that can only be facilitated under the Mental Health Act, an assessment may be required.
    • The criterion ensures access to appropriate mental healthcare resources.

Mitigation Reports

  • Purpose of mitigation reports:

    • Mitigation reports provide a comprehensive understanding of the defendant’s mental health, its relevance to the offence committed, and its potential impact on culpability and sentencing.
    • These reports aim to present mitigating factors that could reduce the defendant’s moral blameworthiness and promote a fair and proportionate response from the court.
  • Exploring diminished responsibility:

    • Mitigation reports delve into mental health factors that may have diminished the defendant’s capacity to understand the consequences of their actions or exercise self-control at the time of the offence.
    • This analysis highlights any impairments or disorders that may have affected their judgment or decision-making abilities.
  • Assessing the impact on culpability:

    • Mitigation reports evaluate how the defendant’s mental health condition directly influenced their level of culpability for the offence committed.
    • By considering the relationship between mental health and the specific elements of the offence