• Do psychological factors influence magistrates' behaviour towards mentally disordered defendants?: An empirical study

      Whittington, Richard; Dawson, Lindsey-Jane (University of Liverpool (Chester College of Higher Education), 1996-07)
      The aim of this study was to assess magistrates' knowledge of, and attitudes relating to, mentally disordered defendants / offenders and the effects upon 'disposal' [decision making]. Method: A combined quantitative and qualitative empirical study supported by a literature review was chosen. The research instrument used was a questionnaire distributed to a combined local and national sample of magistrates. The knowledge, attitudes and decisions of the whole sample were analysed and comparisons made according to gender, professional experience and length of service. No effort was made to control the three ' grouping' variables gender, professional experience and length of service. The possible influence of these three 'grouping' variables were considered and analysed. The significance of the 'grouping' variables upon knowledge and attitude were statistically analysed using the Mann Whitney U-test, Kruskal Wallis Test and chi-square test. Qualitative data was used to support the statistical analysis. Results: The level of magistrates' knowledge of the procedure for disposal of mentally disordered defendants/offenders was low. Professional experience did not indicate improved knowledge. Magistrates 'knowledge of other agencies' responsibilities and policies with regard to the mentally disordered defendant were demonstrated to be seriously deficient. Magistrates were shown to have negative attitudes towards mental disorder but a more positive attitude towards the history of mental disorder when considering the disposal of defendants/offenders. Female magistrates and longer serving magistrates were significantly inclined to a more positive attitude towards mentally disordered defendants, giving greater weight to the issue of mental disorder. Magistrates showed variable estimates of the importance of mental disorder in criminal behaviour. Magistrates find facilities and options for the handling and 'disposal' of the mentally disordered in the Magistrates' Court extremely deficient,limited and frustrating. Conclusion: The research has shown that there is in general, poor knowledge and understanding of the main issues associated with mentally disordered defendants/offenders. The study has also demonstrated that these deficiencies adversely affect magistrates' decision making 'disposal', in respect of mentally disordered defendants/offenders. The study has shown that in order to reduce the number of mentally disordered remanded to prison and thus adhere to policy outlined in Home Office circulars 66/90 and 12/95, it is necessary to take steps to improve the knowledge and understanding of the issues related to the mentally disordered defendant/mentally disordered offender for all magistrates.