In 2009 the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was found to be in breach of the Human Rights Act for denying an assault victim access to justice (FB v DPP (2009).
This followed an assault case in 2007, which the CPS dropped on the grounds that the victim had schizophrenia and his evidence was therefore unreliable – despite the victim identifying his assailants and having physical evidence of the extent of the crime. Sadly this incident is not unique, as stigma within the criminal justice system often leads to cases being discontinued because of an assumption that people with mental health problems can never be credible witnesses.
This particular case was taken to the High Court which, in 2009, found the CPS to be in breach of article three of the Human Rights Act. Article three guarantees that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’
In making his ruling, the High Court Judge stated “Article three carries with it a positive obligation on a state to provide protection through its legal system against a person suffering such ill-treatment at the hands of others […] Looking at the proceedings as a whole […] the nature and manner of their abandonment increased the victim’s sense of vulnerability and of being beyond the protection of the law.”
This landmark judgement prompted the CPS to introduce new policies and guidance for prosecutors on how to support victims and witnesses with experience of mental distress, and how to use psychiatric evidence appropriately to assess the credibility and reliability of a witness.
In this case, the Human Rights Act was pivotal in ensuring the victim received compensation for his denial of justice. It was also instrumental in initiating improved practice within the CPS which will help protect the rights of many victims and witnesses in the future. This is a clear example of the importance of the Human Rights Act in ensuring equal access to justice for all.