By Helen Gavaghan, Crown Court, writing from the North of England. 16th December, 2019.
A 16-year old youth with mental health problems and, arguably, a mental age currently of 10 was today found guilty in Crown Court of murder earlier this year. Discretionary reporting restrictions under S45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act of 1999 remain in place. The judge was satisfied anger was the youth's motivation, and handed down a minimum sentence of 16 years.
Both victim and assailant have been damaged by the availability of Crack Cocaine on the streets of Halifax in West Yorkshire.
During a significant part of the trial two consultant forensic psychiatrists were in Court. The judge thanked both at the end of the trial. Both psychiatrists were questioned closely about their diagnoses and medical views by opposing Queens' Counsels. There was both medical agreement and disagreement between the two doctors. After the last evidence was taken I spoke informally with the psychiatrist the prosecution had called. I was told biomarkers do not currently exist for one of the conditions explored by the psychiatrists, namely Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The Court was told ADHD is treatable. I asked the prosecution's psychiatrist the general nature of references in their reports to the Court, and was told it would be to one or other of two diagnostic manuals, rather than the scientific or medical literature. I was told also by the psychiatrist called by the defence that functional magnetic resonance imaging (of academic interest in understanding ADHD) was not a technique that had been relied on in preparing the defence report. The convicted youth (by chronological age) additionally has other long-standing medical problems, for example complex trauma.
Harrowing victim-impact statements were read to the Court by Counsel for the prosecution. Defence Counsel advocacy in mitigation included, among other things, an argument based on a psychiatric view that the defendant had had genetic problems even before birth.
The judge told the jury they could be helped if affected, and that even the judge does not become inured to hearing such cases.
*Published first online at 17.50 on 16th December, 2019. Distributed on Twiier.
This news report will be become part if issue 4 of Science, People & Politics.