Posts Tagged 'mental health'

Some people are crazy about him, some people can’t stand his face, some people they smile when they know he’s coming, some people chase him out of the place…

Sane or insane? What would the difference be had Breivik have been on trial in England?

In July last year, Anders Breivik killed seventy seven people in what was the worst massacre to have taken place in Norway since the Second World War. Much of his subsequent trial have centered around the following issue – to what extent was Breivik responsible for his own actions?

Breivik himself has insisted that his actions resulted from his extremist view that he was acting to prevent a Muslim invasion. He states that he is sane, that he believes his actions were reasonable given his perception and so denies the charge of terrorism.

As in most legal systems, in Norway’s Penal Code the defendant’s state of mind is key to his or her culpability. Accordingly the court ordered a psychiatric report on Breivik and then after criticism of its findings, that Breivik suffered from psychosis, a second report was commissioned. This report reached a different conclusion, implying that whilst poor mental health had a role to play in Breivik’s actions, his state of mind was not sufficiently to prevent him being imprisoned.

There are two components that are usually considered when judging an accused’s guilt – that they have committed a guilty act (‘actus reus’) and that overlapping with this, they had a guilty state of mind (‘mens rea’).

If both are present at the same time, the elements required for an offence are satisfied.

The defence of insanity relates to the defendant’s guilty state of mind and implies that whilst a person may well have committed the guilty act, they should not be found guilty because their insanity at the time disqualified their necessary state of mind.

In England the defence of insanity is defined with reference to the ‘M’Naghten rules’ which came about as a result of the acquittal of Daniel McNaughton after he took a shot at Robert Peel in 1843.

These rules state that ‘to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong’.

The reference to not knowing the ‘nature and quality’ of the act is that the defendant did not know what he was physically doing, for example he had cut someone’s throat thinking that he was actually cutting a loaf of bread.

When it comes to not knowing that the act was wrong and using the same example, the defence would have to prove that whilst the defendant had knowingly cut the throat, as a result of his mental state he had not known that doing so was wrong.

The court is entitled to presume that a defendant is sane and when it comes to making the case for a defence of insanity, the burden of proof lies with the defence and they must make their case on the balance of probabilities.

If the defence is successful, the sensitively named Trial of Lunatics Act 1883 affords the courts a verdict of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’.

The impact of Breivik’s actions have understandably evoked a strong public feeling that he ought to be properly punished for his attacks with the Norwegian sentiment being that his jailing would be preferable to being committed to a mental health hospital or that better still, the death penalty ought to be reintroduced.

Much interest has been raised in how the court has handled the issue of Breivik’s mental state and in how Norway’s Penal Code assesses psychiatric concerns in relation to an offender’s guilt.

The judges now have until August 24th to deliver their verdict and will no doubt be influenced by both strong public opinion and the varying evidence offered by the psychiatric reports.

The case is a reminder that deciding the extent of a defendant’s insanity as a bearing on their guilt is never an easy one and that reliable ‘facts’ can sometimes be hard to come by in support of the decision.

Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky…

Shine on...

During the course of attending call outs it is far from uncommon that we’ll encounter people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. These can range from mild conditions that hardly affect a person’s daily life all the way through to serious mental health issues that can put both the sufferer and others around him or her at risk. As police officers we are given extensive training on how best to address psychiatric problems and accumulate a great deal of experience in how best to get help to those who need it.

Mental health issues can come in all sorts of different forms and as such it is incredibly important that we’re able to identify the signs that indicate a person may be at risk.

This applies not only to potential offenders but also to victims and can affect how we deal with incidents, both where mental health issues and learning difficulties may play a part.

A witness with a learning difficulty, as an example, may not give the best standard of evidence through a written statement and so we can look to conducting a video interview instead to help strengthen their testimony.

More immediate mental health issues can be incredibly challenging to deal with and require a great deal of tact and sensibility when offering help to both the sufferer and those around him or her.

Whilst we always seek the co-operation of a person when finding the required help, we are backed up by a series of powers given to us under the Mental Health Act 1983 which amongst other things gives us the ability to detain someone so that they can be taken care of.

The specific power comes under Section 136 of the Act and affords us the ability to remove a person found in a public place and apparently suffering from a mental disorder to a ‘place of safety’ if we judge that they are in urgent need of care or control. The person can then be detained for a period of up to seventy-two hours during which they can be seen by a mental health professional who can make a diagnosis and put in place the necessary system of care.

The term ‘place of safety’ usually refers to a designated mental health hospital such as Dorothy Pattison, although in exceptional circumstances it can be a police station.

Section 136 is often used when people have approached us to indicate that they may self harm or commit suicide which, assuming they are in a public place, means they fall within the definition for the need of immediate care and control.

Once detained, a person will normally be seen by a panel of mental health officials who will seek to engage with the person and decide whether they require admission to a ward, medication, counseling or other options.

Further to our powers under Section 136, we also have additional powers to make welfare decisions on the behalf of someone who appears to lack the capacity to make them independently and also to remove a person from their own home on mental health grounds if it appears necessary to do so.

The first power is granted to us by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and means that if we think a mental health problems is preventing a person from making a decision affecting their welfare, to obtain medical treatment for a wound as an example, we can act to ensure that they receive the necessary treatment.

The second power, drawn from Section 135 of the Mental Health Act, allows us to obtain a warrant to enter a home and take measures to ensure that proper treatment is put in place for a person suffering a mental disorder.

Mental health issues are amongst some of the hardest we have to deal with and affect the suffer and all those around them. If you are concerned about a mental health issue affecting yourself or someone near to you there are a variety of organisations ready to help.

Your GP should be first port of call or as an alternative, a NHS Walk-In Health Center or NHS Direct.

For more immediate issues you are able to contact the Walsall Crisis Team on 01922 644 535. The Crisis Team are a team of clinicians, nurses and social workers who are qualified to provide mental health support for people in crisis and work 24/7 providing coverage for the Walsall area.

In addition, the Samaritans are there around the clock is listen and can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90. You needn’t suffer alone and are likely to find that talking alone will help – a problem shared is a problem halved.

As ever feedback is appreciated and the first person to post as a reply the correct name of the artist and song from this blog’s title will receive an approving nod from myself.


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