Courts and Mental Health – top tips for surviving the court system

It goes without saying that courts are damaging to your mental health. Cases often drag on for months and leave an ominous weight hanging over you, creating a constant source of stress. Preparing defences means reliving often traumatic instances of state violence.

There are, however, steps you can take to relieve some of the pressure of going on trial and reduce the possibility of burnout through dealing with your case. This article follows on from a previous guide on police custody and mental health. People have to engage with the court system in many different contexts and this is not in any way meant to be an exhaustive guide. Below are some brief points on surviving the court system.

  • Rely on the experts. It’s no secret, the law is confusing and complicated. Not only is statute and common law a web of complexity, but you also need to consider potential defences you can run, as well as the relevant case law as well as considering where you are likely to be tried (a defence that works for a jury in Southwark may not work for a jury in Canterbury). This is a lot to consider for a layperson so the first thing you should do when charged is get help from those in the know. If you are eligible for legal aid then get that sorted immediately and engage a decent law firm (good firms for protest law are listed below.) If you aren’t eligible and otherwise can’t afford to pay out of pocket there is the possibility of a lawyer giving advice or representing you for free. If this isn’t an option then get in touch with Green and Black Cross and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group (LDMG) who specialise in supporting people through the court system. If you do have a lawyer then get in touch with these groups anyway, they can provide a valuable perspective from people who have gone through the court system before.
  • Isolation is your enemy. One of the worst things you can do is go through the court system alone. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with court dates, deadlines and gathering evidence. Even a minor case has a lot of work attached to it. Not only this but it is emotionally draining to go through a court process, from charge to trial. Try and find a sympathetic friend to come with you to court dates, or even just to check in with when you’re feeling down. Just knowing there’s somebody available to talk to is often enough to get you through a difficult day. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing what is happening with anyone you know personally then, again, get in touch with the LDMG who provide court support.
  • Prepare for, but don’t expect, the worst. A good thing about the sentencing system in the UK is its relative predictability. Leaving aside blatant outliers it is often easy to predict a range of possible sentences upon a guilty verdict or plea based on factors such as conviction history, mitigating and aggravating circumstances and the disposition of the judge presiding over the case. You should have a fairly decent idea whether a custodial sentence is likely in your case. For ease of mind make sure you prepare for whatever sentence you may get, whether that means cancelling standard orders and preparing a bag for court or setting aside time to complete community service. The Prison Survival Guide written by prisonism is a great resource and is available for free online.
  • Don’t be afraid to sue the fuckers. It might seem daunting to start civil proceedings related to your case, especially after a long time being on bail, but it is often worth considering. A solicitor can tell you if you have a case and in reality you spend little to no time actually in court. The police will almost always settle a case before it gets to trial so what a civil case actually involves is a series of legal letters. This process can be done individually but it is always better to get a solicitor to help you. Thankfully if you can’t get legal aid in a civil case solicitors sometimes work on a no win no fee basis, taking their fee from the compensation you receive from the police.