What is psychological harm?
Posted on 25th September 2019
As Personal Injury Solicitors in Preston, MG Legal, we often must consider the psychological effects of an accident, but in a recent criminal law case the Courts actually gave guidance on assessing psychological harm in criminal cases.
The issue of psychological harm to victims of crime has a much higher profile than it once had, and it is only right that this type of harm is recognised by the law. The new definition of domestic violence, for example, includes psychological as well as emotional abuse; and the government is recognising the need to take action against crime to protect people from the risk of psychological harm.
Any moves to protect people’s psychological as well as physical wellbeing and to punish those guilty of offences causing psychological harm ought to be welcomed, though applying the law may not always be straightforward. Even on conviction of a criminal offence which has caused psychological harm to the victim – the sentencing process can then prove challenging. In such cases where psychological harm has been caused, the courts must have regard to the relevant sentencing guidelines.
In the recent case of R v Chall and others  EWCA Crim 865 the Court of Appeal gave some important guidance on the approach the courts should take on sentencing when assessing whether a victim of crime has suffered severe psychological harm.
So the Courts must consider the following:
• Must the court obtain expert evidence before making a finding of severe psychological harm?
• If not, on what evidence can it act?
• In particular, can the court make such a finding on the basis only of the contents of a Victim Personal Statement (VPS)?
On a final point, it will be rare that a victim can be cross-examined on the VPS for obvious reasons, including the risk that it may actually increase the psychological harm they have already suffered.
It is reassuring for victims of crime that the court must take into account the psychological effects of what they have suffered when sentencing the perpetrator. It also sends a clear message that violent criminals will be punished for the psychological harm caused to their victims.
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