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Young people within the criminal justice system: making sense of fitness to plead and mental capacity in practice

Karina Hepworth (Senior Nurse Specialist, Learning Disability, Kirklees Youth Offending Team, South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Huddersfield, UK)

Journal of Learning Disabilities and Offending Behaviour

ISSN: 2042-0927

Article publication date: 10 October 2011




Increasing research evidence highlights the importance of recognising a person's learning disability early in their journey through the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and highlights the need for liaison and diversion schemes. This practice paper seeks to raise awareness of the importance of mental capacity and its alignment (or lack there of) with the issue of fitness to plead.


The Law Commission's recent consultation has highlighted the disparity of the Pritchard Test and the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and has considered several provisional proposals for consideration. As a learning disability nurse within a Youth Offending Service, the author encounters young people on court Orders who struggle to understand the criminal justice process. To highlight the significance of this, and its relationship to practice, the paper proposes to discuss a young person's case.


Early recognition of a person's needs and mental capacity are crucial to ensure the right pathway is taken through the criminal justice system. Whether this be supporting the person to undertake their Order and delivery of an appropriate and understandable intervention or diversion away from the criminal justice system into services. Information sharing and working together are key factors to success.


This paper seeks to highlight the difficulties and dilemmas facing staff working within the criminal justice system in relation to the identification and support needs of people with learning difficulties. Learning disability nurses and those professionals working within learning disability services have a significant part to play in this area of work and can help to ensure that people with learning disabilities do not face double jeopardy and injustice.



Hepworth, K. (2011), "Young people within the criminal justice system: making sense of fitness to plead and mental capacity in practice", Journal of Learning Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 170-177.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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