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Brain Injury Victims and the Criminal Justice System

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Suffering a traumatic brain injury can have a serious impact on a person’s physical and mental abilities, as well as potentially causing profound changes to their personality. While in most cases these issues are relatively minor and manageable, unfortunately, this can sometimes leave brain injury sufferers more likely to engage in violence and other antisocial behaviour as well as making them potentially vulnerable to exploitation by criminals.

As a result, brain injury survivors can find themselves more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system, while also being potentially less able to successfully understand and deal with law enforcement services, lawyers and the court system.

Understanding these issues and the support people with a brain injury need can help to prevent brain injury survivors from coming into contact with the criminal justice system. It can also help to ensure that, where this has already happened, they have the best chance of a fair outcome.

How a brain injury can affect a person’s personality and behaviour

A brain injury can result in changes to a sufferer’s personality that either exaggerate personality traits they already had or result in behaviour that seems completely out of character compared to how they were before their injury.

Common issues brain injury sufferers can experience include:

  • Impulsiveness – A tendency to speak or act without considering the consequences.
  • Loss of inhibition – Loss of control over behaviour, which can sometimes result in crude or offensive behaviour, including sexually inappropriate comments and actions.
  • Irritability – Including impatience, intolerance of mistakes and sensitivity to interruptions and noise, especially where this affects the person’s concentration.
  • Aggression – A tendency to be short-tempered and may result in both verbal and physical outbursts.
  • Egocentricity – Being very self-centred and unable to consider the needs or feelings of others.
  • Loss of empathy – Difficulty seeing things from other people’s point of view, which can lead to a disregard for other people’s needs and feelings.

Why a brain injury can lead to problems with the law

While for most people with a brain injury these changes will be relatively minor and short-lived, for others they can be more serious and long-lasting. Where this is the case, these behavioural changes can make it much more likely that the brain injury survivor will end up committing criminal or anti-social behaviour, often without being really aware that what they are doing is wrong.

While family members and friends may be willing to tolerate these personality changes up to a point, where these behaviours become more extreme, or occur in public and/or with strangers, it becomes much more likely that the police may become involved.

A common example would be where someone living with a brain injury becomes frustrated while trying to buy something in a shop and loses their temper. If they are verbally or physically abusive to members of staff, it is likely that the police may be called and the brain injury survivor could then end up being arrested.

In these kinds of situations, the person with the brain injury may not be able to adequately explain their situation and members of the public and police officers may not have the awareness or training to recognise the signs of a brain injury and make appropriate accommodations.

Another issue is that people with brain injuries can be very susceptible to exploitation by criminals. They may lack the judgement and awareness to know when someone is trying to exploit them – for example, being willing to share personal information with fraudsters who then use this for identify theft and other types of fraud.

In some cases, the brain injury survivor can then find themselves accused of criminal behaviour committed using their identity while being unable to adequately understand or explain what has really happened.

How brain injury survivors struggle with the criminal justice system

While the effects of a brain injury can make it more likely the someone will become involved with the criminal justice system, it can also make it much harder for them to deal with that system.

This can be for a combination of reasons, including the behavioural issues mentioned above, but also due to many of the other cognitive issues associated with brain injuries, such as a tendency towards confusion, difficulty concentrating and problems with communication.

These issues mean that a brain injury survivor may struggle to explain what has happened or why they behaved in the way that they did. They may also continue to have outbursts of anger or other problematic behaviour while being dealt with by police, with the potential to make their situation worse.

Get specialist legal support for brain injury survivors

For all of these reasons, it is essential the anyone living with a brain injury who becomes involved with the criminal justice system has access to specialist legal help and advice to ensure their interests are protected and that their condition is taken into account.

It is also strongly recommended that anyone with a serious brain injury apply for a Headway Brain Injury Identity Card. This can help law enforcement officials to appreciate the situation and ensure the cardholder gets appropriate support.

How to obtain compensation for a head or brain injury

At IBB Claims we specialise in supporting people living with the effects of traumatic brain injuries. Our solicitors in Chesham and Uxbridge are part of the Headway approved solicitors directory, reflecting our expertise in this area.

While our main focus is on helping people to claim brain injury compensation, we can also provide assistance with a wide range of legal issues relating to brain injury. IBB Solicitors, has an exceptionally strong criminal defence team, meaning that where you or a loved one with a brain injury have been caught up in the criminal justice system, we can provide the specialist support needed to achieve a fair outcome.

For more information or to speak to one of our specialist brain injury lawyers to begin your claim, please call us on  0333 123 9099 or email enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk.

The information contained within our Blog Articles is provided as general information only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice or seek to be an exhaustive statement of the law and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. For further details, please see our terms of use policy.

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