The Brain Injury Identity Card is part of our Justice Project, a project aiming to tackle the shocking over-representation of brain injury within the criminal justice system by providing training to a wide range of professionals including prison and probation staff and police services.
In addition, the project provides vital support to vulnerable brain injury survivors caught up in the criminal justice system. By calling the freephone criminal legal assistance number on the front of the cards, survivors gain access to specialist criminal legal support from our partners, Thompsons Solicitors.
We asked Paul Shevlin from the social justice law firm to explain how the service works and to highlight some of the interventions made on behalf of vulnerable adults.
“At Thompsons Solicitors, we have been partners in the Justice Project since its inception, providing brain injury survivors with access to specialist legal advice and representation,” said Paul.
“We manage the 24/7 legal helpline, which gives the cardholder access to legal advice and representation 365 days a year if they find themselves in contact with the criminal justice system.
“The helpline has seen a steady increase in calls year-on-year since it began, topping nearly 850 calls in the past two years alone.
“A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, published in April 2020 led to an inquiry into the treatment of disabled defendants – including those with neurodiverse needs – by the criminal justice system.
“It flagged that legal professionals often rely on defendants disclosing information about their injuries as part of the legal process which, in reality, is something many brain injury survivors are not comfortable or capable of doing.
Having a Brain Injury Identity Card helps mitigate some of these concerns, but identification at the first point of contact with the criminal justice system is only the first challenge.
“In October 2020, the Sentencing Council published guidance for magistrates and judges on sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders and neurologic impairments.
“Headway took part in the consultation, highlighting the importance of including acquired brain injury into the process. That intervention proved effective withthe new guidance stipulating that such impairments and disorders must be considered by the court, even though they may not necessarily impact on
“However, Headway’s work didn’t stop there and its training of probation staff with responsibility for drafting pre-sentence reports is already proving
effective and will no doubt ensure the outcome for many vulnerable survivors will be rehabilitation rather than incarceration.
“Indeed, this is already happening. A recent case in which we supported a brain injury survivor led to the court granting a supervision order, with the
survivor attending a Headway group as an alternative to a custodial sentence.
“It is progress when the criminal justice system acknowledges the benefits of a more holistic approach to the rehabilitation of those with brain injury who have found themselves in difficulty with the law.
“While our job is, where possible and appropriate, to divert people away from criminal justice system we of course understand that a person who commits a crime will face consequences.
“Prison however is very often not the answer, and it can be a particularly dangerous place for those with brain injuries, so novel approaches are needed.
“Of course, avoiding a case reaching the courts in the first place is the best outcome for our clients. Currently, we are supporting a client who was arrested by the police on suspicion of drug dealing.
“Thanks to our intervention and due to his brain injury card, the police are now treating him as a vulnerable adult manipulated by others and they are
looking for those who took advantage of our client’s vulnerability.
“Without his brain injury card, the call would not have been made to Thompsons Solicitors, and the end result might have been very different.
Thanks to The Justice Project, these instances are becoming more commonplace and resulting in more just and better thought through outcomes for all.”
Christopher* sustained a traumatic brain injury following a violent assault resulting in executive
functioning deficits, memory problems and communication difficulties.
Christopher faced serious charges of possession and intent to supply class A drugs, and was represented by Thompsons Solicitors.
It emerged that Christopher had been subject to exploitation and drug dealers had been using his home as a drug distribution point, an offence described as ‘cuckooing’. It became apparent that he was not fit to plead or participate in providing evidence in relation to his exploitation as a result of the cognitive impact of his brain injury.
Thompsons obtained a report from a neuropsychologist as well as ongoing support through the survivor’s local Headway group, and were successful in persuading the Crown Prosecution Service not to proceed with the prosecution.
It was agreed that prosecution of this very vulnerable adult would not be in the public interest, and would be prejudicial and unfair given his inability to participate fully at trial due to the cognitive impact of his brain injury.
Daniel* sustained a traumatic brain injury following a motorcycle accident and as a result has memory loss, speech difficulties and disinhibited behaviour. He was charged with sexual assault but had no memory of the offence.
Each time he attended court, Daniel could not remember the reason he was there. He received support from Thompsons Solicitors, Headway’s partners on the Justice Project.
A neuropsychological report was sought highlighting the impact of Daniel’s brain injury and the court found he was unfit to plead. Evidence, however, showed that Daniel had committed the act.
Thompsons liaised with probation and social services to devise a supervision plan requiring Daniel to attend his local Headway group to continue to receive support with his challenging and inappropriate behaviour.
*names changed to protect identities.
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