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Landmark case sees woman handed treatment order after unprovoked stabbing

Landmark case sees woman handed treatment order after unprovoked stabbing

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Landmark case sees woman handed treatment order after unprovoked stabbing


A Jerseywoman with a long history of mental illness, who stabbed a man who had cared for her for many years in an unprovoked attack last year, has been ordered to stay in a secure UK psychiatric unit to receive treatment following a landmark Royal Court case.

Heard yesterday, the sentence, which will stand until the Court orders otherwise, was the first of its kind to be handed down since the introduction of the Mental Health Law in 2016.

It came after Jane*, who was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia with traits of emotionally unstable personality disorder nearly two decades ago, but had never received intensive treatment, was found to have the capacity to recognise her actions and enter a plea to the single charge of grave and criminal assault.

She subsequently pleaded ‘guilty’ to the offence, leading to a sentencing hearing yesterday in which it was agreed that prison would not be the right course of action for her. 

The Court heard that the stabbing took place in the morning of 13 August 2018 and that there had been a similar incident in the past. At the time, Jane had been sentenced to a two-year binding-over order, on the condition she complied with psychiatric treatment. 

Jane attacked the man, who had been caring for her for a long time, after bringing him some coffee. He thought she had returned to the kitchen to get some biscuits but heard her “running or at least moving very fast” a few seconds later. “The next thing I felt was a massive whack to the back of my head,” he said. “It was almost as if I was hit at the same time as she was running at me. There was that much force.”

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Pictured: The man was brought to the Emergency Department after the incident.

As he turned, he saw she was holding a knife and she tried to attack him again. He put his arm up to try to stop Jane and got stabbed in the right arm. He also suffered several cuts to his hand. The pair struggled for a few minutes until the man was able to get hold of the knife, at which point Jane said “Oh you’re bleeding… Let me help you.”

The man, who was left with several cuts to his head, chest and arm, said Jane had “like a catatonic look on her face like she wasn’t there” during the attack.

Jane was sent to a medium secure unit in the UK December 2018 where she was put under the care of a consultant psychiatrist.

During the sentencing, the Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith, who was sitting with Jurats Steven Austin-Vautier and Jane Ronge, heard from Professor Eastman, Emeritus Professor of Law and Ethics in Psychiatry at the University of London and an honorary consultant forensic psychiatrist in the National Health Service. Professor Eastman explained that Jane’s mental illness – schizophrenia – interrelated with her personality disorder, and said she was not psychotic at the time of last year’s attack.

He described the attack has being caused by the “confluence” between her mental health and a particular situation. He explained that she had become “overwhelmed by the emotional response to a particular stressor.”

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Pictured: The consultant forensic psychiatric who has been looking after Jane said she has been engaging well with her treatment.

Professor Eastman told Court that Jane did not cause a “general risk to the general public” because she only appeared to be violent “in very close intimate relationships”, with both incidents taking place in “very specific circumstances".

The Court then heard from the consultant forensic psychiatrist, who has been looking after Jane since she was sent to the facility in December. He described Jane’s treatment plan, saying it had been designed to help improve and manage her stress and distress. 

He said she had engaged well with the treatment and was very motivated, adding that sending her back to prison would be not only counterproductive, but also increase the risk of Jane harming herself. His comments were echoed by Dr Tanya Engelbrecht, who said Jane had appeared very enthusiastic about pursuing her treatment. 

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Pictured: The Solicitor General recommended a treatment order for Jane.

Solicitor General Mark Temple urged Court to make a treatment order as well as a restriction order, which would give the Court “reassurance that while she is undergoing treatment she won’t be discharged unless by order of the court.”

Advocate Rebecca Morley-Kirk, Jane’s lawyer, described the case as “really unusual” and "unique".

She said that Jane had not sought to, or accidentally, exacerbated her illness by taking alcohol or drugs, and that the attack would not have taken place if it hadn’t been for the confluence of “very unusual circumstances.”

The defence lawyer said it was a “great pity” had not received psychological intervention for many years as it might have helped her.

She explained Jane had purely been taking medicine since early 2000s, describing it as a “substantial length of time to leave someone with such a mental illness.”

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Pictured: Advocate Morley-Kirk was representing Jane.

Advocate Morley-Kirk said the treatment order was absolutely the right thing as it would help Jane “develop mechanism of coping with stressors in case she found herself in the same situation." 

She added that Jane was deeply sorry for having committed the offence and did not want to find herself in court again.

Returning the sentence of the Court, the Royal Court Commissioner explained that this was the first occasion in which the Court “had been asked to make a final treatment order” under the 2016 Mental Health Law combined with a restriction order, and thanked all three experts for their “invaluable assistance".

The Court decided to follow the conclusions of the Crown and made a treatment order for Jane to remain at the facility she has been since last December. 

She will not be able to be discharged, transferred or granted leave or absence from the facility, unless Jersey's Royal Court orders it. 

She will also have to be examined by a responsible officer every six months who will have to report to the Attorney General as to whether the restriction order should continue or if further treatment is needed.

*Express has decided to change the woman's name to protect her anonymity.

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