Skip to main content

Mental Health

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2016

1. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of provision for people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system. (904662)

10. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of provision for people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system. (904672)

14. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of provision for people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system. (904676)

Mental health is taken extremely seriously across the criminal justice system. Mental health services are commissioned by NHS England and by local health boards in Wales, and they are based on locally assessed need. We are working with health partners to improve services in custody and in the community.

Liaison and diversion services are really important in ensuring that people with mental health issues get the help they need. The expansion of the programme is welcome, but about half the country is still not covered, and there has been a long wait for the business case on getting to 100%. Will the Minister explain what the delay is, and will she confirm when all areas expect to have a liaison and diversion service in place?

We have developed liaison and diversion services in partnership with other Departments to divert some offenders away from the criminal justice system and into the support they need. Through that system, clinicians assess those with mental health needs and refer them to the treatment they need—ideally, that happens at the earliest contact with the criminal justice system. The liaison and diversion system is working well, and it is very much a joint government programme. I would like to see it rolled out as early as is convenient, and we will certainly keep the hon. Gentleman updated.

The mental health charity Mind has said that people with mental health problems are sometimes unable to advocate for themselves, so cuts to legal aid will undoubtedly have impacted on their ability to access justice. Should the Government not rethink their refusal to conduct a full post-implementation review of the damaging effects their harsh legal aid cuts are having on some of the most vulnerable?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are spending £1.6 billion, so this is one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world. However, he is absolutely right that vulnerable people should be supported at every point in the criminal justice system. That is why the judiciary are trained to be able to assist those people, and the changes to the court system will support that.

An increased number of survivors of domestic abuse are forced to represent themselves in the family courts as litigants in person. The 2015 Women’s Aid survey found that 25% of women had been directly questioned by the perpetrator in court. Being cross-examined by the perpetrator, who may have beaten and raped them, is undoubtedly causing mental distress. What is the Minister doing to improve access to legal aid for victims of domestic abuse, as the current system is clearly not working?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. The Government are absolutely committed to supporting all vulnerable and intimidated witnesses—especially those who have been subjected to domestic abuse—as well as to helping them give the best possible evidence and to seeing offenders brought to justice. That is why we have put in place measures that give witnesses the ability to give evidence using things such as a screen in the courtroom or a live videolink from a separate room or a location away from the court building. The hon. Lady will also know that, following the Court of Appeal judgment, we are taking immediate action to change our arrangements, and we are more than doubling the original time limit for evidence in domestic violence cases, from two to five years, and introducing a provision on the assessment of evidence of financial abuse.

Will the Minister outline how the Government’s prison reform plans will give prison governors greater autonomy, allowing them to tailor services such as mental health provision for the benefit of all prisoners?

We are moving towards full co-commissioning of mental health services between governors and NHS England, meaning that prison leaders can have much more say in defining the services their prisoners need and how the available budget is used. That will begin in reform prisons; if successful, it will apply nationwide from 2017. It will be backed by a high-quality, modern prison estate with rehabilitation and treatment at its core.

The criminal justice system is complicated enough whether someone has mental health issues or not. Will the Minister ensure that victims of crime who have mental health issues are given the particular help they need to submit victim impact statements to the court in the proper way?

Yes; this is absolutely fundamental. Supporting people through their individual circumstances is fundamental to everything we are looking at in the Justice Department at the moment. Judges are trained to be able to support vulnerable witnesses and victims at every stage.

There is a key relationship between mental health and addiction, so can the Minister assure me that when these matters are dealt with in court there is effective referral to effective treatment? When I accompanied the Justice Secretary to Highbury Corner magistrates court, it was evident that some local authorities had provision for drug treatment, particularly for youth offenders, but other authorities did not. Can we ensure that there is proper, uniform provision when people get referred from court?

This is a really crucial point. We are already working across Government to bring together mental health and drug and alcohol treatment at every stage, alongside police, courts and prisons and probation. That includes making sure that appropriate treatments are made available if they are part of sentences with mandated health interventions.

Charities like Langley House Trust offer specialist mental health support to prisoners when they have left prison and have been rehabilitated in the community. It has recently acquired a property on Milton Street in Fleetwood. Will the Minister support my call for it to meet the town council this evening to reassure the local community about its fears and to show that charities like Langley House Trust and communities can work together to ensure that prisoners can be rehabilitated?

I would very much like to look at the circumstances that the hon. Lady has mentioned. Our Transforming Rehabilitation changes have put in place the sort of support that sometimes prisoners who had had very short sentences might never have had before. The community rehabilitation company might be able to give some support on that as well.

The jury have just given their verdicts at the inquest into the death of 96 fans at the Hillsborough disaster. Today is a hugely important day for all those who seek to protect and promote justice. In particular, our thoughts are with those families who have fought for almost 30 years to establish the truth of what happened on that day.

The number of suicides in prison between 2013 and 2015 was 53% higher than over the previous two years and amounted to one person tragically taking their life every four days. Only 40% of those who died last year had been identified as at risk under the assessment, care in custody and teamwork process. Will the Minister explain why so many vulnerable prisoners are not being identified in the first place, and even when they are, why so many are not getting the help that they need?

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the Hillsborough report. I understand that the Home Secretary will make a statement on that tomorrow.

The hon. Lady is right to say that every self-inflicted death in prison is an absolute tragedy. We are committing to reduce the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison. There have been no more this year than there were last year, but every single one is absolutely a tragedy. We will overhaul how mental health is treated in prisons, giving governors a much greater say over what services their prisoners need and how the available budget is used. However, it was Labour’s inexplicable refusal to introduce waiting times for mental health care at the same time as introducing them for physical healthcare that set back the cause of mental health for so many years, and in some cases saw people being sentenced to prison in order to access the support that they could not get in the community.

Order. I am very disappointed that the Secretary of State is not sitting at the very heart of his ministerial team. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not lurking uncharacteristically in the shadows—we would not want that.