Verdicts of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder in adult criminal courts, 2005/2006-2011/2012
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By Zoran Miladinovic and Jennifer Lukassen
- NCRMD cases represent a small proportion of adult criminal court cases
- One in five NCRMD cases involved major assault
- NCRMD cases involved slightly older accused than non-NCRMD cases
- NCRMD cases took longer to complete than non-NCRMD criminal court cases
- Survey description
A fundamental concept in the Canadian justice system is the premise that an individual must have the capacity to understand that his or her behaviour was wrong in order to be found guilty of a criminal offence (Latimer and Lawrence 2006). The verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) is a final decision reached when a judge or jury finds that an accused was suffering from a mental disorder while committing the criminal act and as a result is exempt from criminal responsibility (Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, s.672.34). An individual found NCRMD is neither acquitted nor found guilty (Latimer and Lawrence 2006); the court or Review Board1 may make one of three dispositions: absolute discharge, conditional discharge, or detention in a hospital (Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, s.672.54).
Using data from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS), this Juristat bulletin presents the most recent information available on completed cases in adult criminal court, where at least one charge in the case received a final decision of NCRMD. Data were examined from fiscal year 2005/2006 through to 2011/2012 from ten provinces and territories; however data from Quebec, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories were unavailable. In addition, superior court data were unavailable for Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
According to the ICCS, from 2005/2006 to 2011/2012, there were a total of 1,908 adult cases2 in the reporting jurisdictions which received a final decision of NCRMD for at least one charge in the case (Table 1). Over this time frame, the number of NCRMD cases completed annually ranged from 252 to 292. NCRMD cases represented less than 1% of adult criminal court cases processed annually for each of the ten reporting provinces and territories and this proportion remained relatively stable over the period studied.
|Jurisdiction||Case fiscal year|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||NCRMD||1||0||0||0||0||1||5|
|Prince Edward Island||NCRMD||0||0||0||0||0||3||0|
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Integrated Criminal Court Survey.
The rate of NCRMD cases for reporting jurisdictions has also remained fairly stable over time (Chart 1) varying from approximately 7.5 cases per 10,000 completed adult criminal court cases a year to about 9.1 per 10,000.
The rate of NCRMD cases varies among reporting jurisdictions. New Brunswick had the highest rate of adult NCRMD cases, ranging from about 25 to 45 per 10,000 completed adult criminal court cases. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had rates that were consistently above the total rate for all reporting jurisdictions. Ontario and British Columbia had rates of NCRMD cases that were very similar to the total rate for all reporting jurisdictions.3
Almost two-thirds (63%) of NCRMD cases where the most serious decision4 in the case was NCRMD involved crimes against the person. Major assault was the most frequent offence, representing about 20% of these NCRMD cases (Table 2). Uttering threats (11%), weapon offences (7%), common assault (7%), and other crimes against the person (6%), together with major assault, accounted for more than half of the offences in these cases.
|Type of offence||NCRMD||Non-NCRMD|
|Total completed cases||1,908||100||2,262,395||100|
|Total completed cases where most serious decision was NCRMD||1,058||100||Note ...: not applicable||Note ...: not applicable|
|Other sexual offences||8||1||10,957||0|
|Other crimes against persons||64||6||15,783||1|
|Break and enter||53||5||61,023||3|
|Possess stolen property||14||1||78,127||3|
|Other property crimes||18||2||10,751||0|
|Fail to appear||3||0||33,920||2|
|Breach of probation||31||3||172,857||8|
|Unlawfully at large||2||0||13,192||1|
|Fail to comply with order||27||3||216,249||10|
|Other administration of justice offences||17||2||51,860||2|
|Disturbing the peace||2||0||12,505||1|
|Residual Criminal Code offences||23||2||23,878||1|
|Other Criminal Code traffic offences||44||4||66,960||3|
|Other drug offences||3||0||85,879||4|
|Youth Criminal Justice Act/Young Offenders Act||0||0||9,130||0|
|Residual federal statute offences||1||0||35,321||2|
... not applicable
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Integrated Criminal Court Survey.
Among adult non-NCRMD criminal court cases, about one-quarter (24%) involved crimes against the person. Impaired driving (11%), theft (11%), common assault (10%), failure to comply with orders (10%), and breach of probation (8%) were the most frequent offences.
For NCRMD cases completed in adult court over the period studied, the median5 age of accused at the time of offence was 34 years. In comparison, the median age in non-NCRMD criminal court cases was 31 years. One in five (20%) NCRMD cases involved accused aged 18-24 (Chart 2). This is in contrast to about one-third (31%) of adult non-NCRMD criminal court cases. The largest proportion of NCRMD cases involved accused aged 25-34 (30%), while for non-NCRMD cases the majority involved accused ages 18-24 (31%). Further, 18% of NCRMD cases involved accused aged 45-54, while 13% of non-NCRMD cases involved accused in this age group.
A large majority of adult NCRMD cases6 involved male accused (87%), while approximately 13% involved female accused. The NCRMD cases were slightly more likely to involve male accused than were the non-NCRMD criminal court cases, where approximately 81% of accused were male and 19% were female.
The length of time from first court appearance to case completion was longer for NCRMD cases than for non-NCRMD criminal court cases. The median amount of time taken to complete adult NCRMD cases was 132 days, which is 17% longer than the 113 days taken for non-NCRMD criminal court cases.
Most completed cases in adult court that had at least one charge resulting in a final decision of NCRMD took longer than one month to complete, with only a small proportion (7%) being completed in 30 days or less (Chart 3). A much larger proportion of adult non-NCRMD criminal court cases were completed in 30 days or less (26%). NCRMD cases most commonly lasted 121-240 days (26%), while non-NCRMD criminal court cases most commonly lasted 1-30 days (26%). Both NCRMD and non-NCRMD criminal court cases had relatively few cases that lasted more than 240 days, at about 28% and 27%, respectively.
Text box 1
Youth court cases involving NCRMD
Similar to adults, a verdict of NCRMD may also be reached in cases involving youth accused. Over the period of 2005/2006 to 2011/2012, there were a total of 69 cases completed in youth court (involving accused aged 12-17) where at least one charge received a final decision of NCRMD. Rates per 10,000 completed youth cases ranged from about 1.4/10,000 to 4.0/10,000 per year, which was less than the adult NCRMD rate.
The median age at the time of offence for NCRMD cases completed in youth court was 16 years old. Approximately 73% of cases involved male accused, compared to about 87% for adult cases.
Similar to adult cases, youth cases most often involved major assault (36%). This was followed by uttering threats (12%), weapon offences (10%), common assault (10%), and Youth Criminal Justice Act offences (10%).
The median amount of time from first court appearance to case completion for youth NCRMD cases was 84 days, much shorter than adult NCRMD cases (132 days).
End of text box.
There were a total of 1,908 adult criminal court cases completed in ten reporting jurisdictions over the period of 2005/2006-2011/2012 that had at least one charge with a final decision of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD). The rate of NCRMD cases for the ten reporting jurisdictions has remained relatively stable over time, varying from 7.5 per 10,000 to 9.1 per 10,000 adult criminal court cases.
Crimes against the person were much more common in NCRMD cases than in non-NCRMD criminal court cases. The median age at time of offence for NCRMD accused was 34 years and compared to non-NCRMD accused, there were relatively few NCRMD accused aged 18-24, but more accused in all the other age groups. Very few NCRMD cases lasted 30 days or less (7%) and NCRMD cases had a longer median duration (132 days) than non-NCRMD criminal court cases (113 days).
Data used in this article are drawn from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS). The ICCS is intended to be a census of pending and completed federal statute charges heard in provincial/territorial and superior courts in Canada. The ICCS collects appearance-level data and derives two basic units of count: completed charges and completed cases.
The primary unit of analysis is a case, which is defined as one or more charges against an accused person or company that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision. A decision is a judgement made by the court. A decision may be final or non-final. A case combines all charges against the same person having one or more key overlapping dates (date of offence, date of initiation, date of first appearance, date of decision, or date of sentencing) into a single case. Only cases that received a final decision for all charges are included in this analysis. Examples of final decisions include: guilty, acquitted, stay, withdrawn, dismissed, and NCRMD.
Rates per 10,000 completed cases were used in this analysis to create a standardized measure of the frequency of NCRMD cases, allowing for comparisons over time to be made between or within the reporting jurisdictions.
In non-NCRMD cases, a case that has more than one charge is represented by the charge with the most serious decision. In cases where two or more charges result in the same decision, the charge with the most serious offence type is selected according to an offence seriousness scale.
In NCRMD cases, cases in which at least one charge resulted in a final decision of NCRMD, irrespective of whether the decision was the most serious decision, were used in this analysis.
For this analysis, ICCS coverage reflects all cases completed in adult Canadian criminal courts with the exception of superior courts in Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, as well as municipal courts in Quebec. Additionally, Quebec, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories did not report data on decisions of NCRMD. Data could not be extracted from these information systems and was therefore unavailable. This may lead to an underestimation of the number of completed cases.
Out of scope for the ICCS are appeal court data, federal court data, and Supreme Court data (Statistics Canada 2013). While the ICCS has the built-in capacity to collect information related to specialized mental health court appearances, there are limitations in the ability to distinguish these courts from traditional criminal courts. The main difficulty lies in the fact that specialized mental health courts are not always dedicated facilities and take place in courtrooms with multiple uses, which makes them difficult to identify using individual courtroom numbers, for example (Sinha 2009).
Sinha M. 2009. An investigation into the feasibility of collecting data on the involvement of adults and youth with mental health issues in the criminal justice system. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-561-M.
Statistics Canada. 2013. “Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS)”. http://www23.statcan.gc.ca:81/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&lang=en&db=imdb&adm=8&dis=2&SDDS=3312. (Accessed February 25, 2014).
- Review Boards are specialized provincial/territorial tribunals that conduct individual assessments of accused found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder and make dispositions that are aimed at protecting the public and helping to re-integrate the accused back into society (Latimer and Lawrence 2006). Review Board data are out of scope for the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) and therefore are not examined in this article.
- A case is one or more charges against an accused person that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision (Statistics Canada 2013). Completed cases that had at least one charge with a final decision of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder were included.
- Among the jurisdictions that reported both superior and provincial/territorial court data (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nunavut) a small proportion of NCRMD cases were heard in superior courts, with BC having the highest proportion at 7%.
- When a case involves two or more charges, one of the charges is selected to represent the case. Court decisions for each charge in a case are ranked from most to least serious as follows: (1) guilty, (2) guilty of a lesser offence, (3) acquitted, (4) stay of proceeding, (5) withdrawn, dismissed, or discharged, (6) NCRMD, (7) other, and (8) transfer of court jurisdiction.
- The median is the middle point of a distribution, when the units are arranged in increasing or decreasing order based on a quantitative variable (such as age). One-half of the group is above the median and one-half below it.
- Excluding cases where sex was unknown.