Judges are trained to spot signs of dementia as the number of law-abiding citizens charged with petty crimes grows.
Mark Hatzer, 53, a senior personal injury attorney for Slater and Gordon who also serves as assistant district judge, has developed a training course to help judges spot the signs of Alzheimer's disease.
He is currently working with the Alzheimer's Society to train his colleagues on how to identify early signs of dementia in clients and "point out" the potential risks for carrying out injustices.
Mr. Hatzer, who lives in Manchester, uses his personal experience to train his legal colleagues.
He is the primary caregiver of his 83-year-old mother Sylvia, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago.
Mr Hatzer came up with the idea of a training course after establishing a link in criminal cases in which people with an otherwise clean record were in court for minor offenses due to the early onset of dementia that had not yet been discovered.
He noted a surge in cases where those with pristine records walked out of supermarkets without paying for groceries or wasting police time.
He said that dementia can cause people who were previously “calm” to become “quite violent” because they can change their personality, with “memory problems” being the “hallmark of dementia sufferers”.
"You may be in the criminal justice system and at risk of suddenly having a criminal record," he told The Telegraph.
“Often times they try to represent themselves because of a lack of legal assistance, and when a judge has a busy court list and is under pressure to keep it up, they can accept it if someone makes a guilty plea without question.
"You need to be made aware of the warning signs and we should point out that this person may have acted atypically."
Mr Hatzer gave the example of a man who used to work as a probation officer preparing reports for judges before sentencing.
However, as his memory problems got worse and worse, he made an effort to do his job. He was diagnosed with dementia and had to retire early.
However, he suddenly found himself in court after becoming aggressive and assaulting a security officer who accused him of shoplifting.
"The dementia had changed his personality," explained Hatzer.
"He was acquitted for having a certain level of knowledge of what to do, and his case was brought to the prosecutor who examined his medical records."
However, Mr. Hatzer cautioned that his course is urgent as not everyone with early signs of dementia has such prior knowledge and may not be able to represent themselves.
As a result, judges need to watch out for possible errors of justice, he said.
"This problem is not going away," he warned.
"Right now, one in three people has dementia and it's getting worse. We are an aging population. We live longer, but not healthier."
According to the Alzheimer's Society, there are currently around 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia.
An increase to 1.6 million is forecast by 2040 – 209,600 will develop dementia this year, that is one every three minutes.
Every sixth person over the age of 80 suffers from dementia.
Danielle Freeman, Community Fundraiser at the Alzheimer's Society, said, “With the aging population and the increasing incidence of dementia, it is extremely important that people be trained to identify the behaviors or actions associated with dementia, and those in need of protection People can be treated appropriately and are supported. "
The start of the course with the title “Raising awareness of frontotemporal dementia” has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Hatzer said that if the delay persists, he will offer a digital version.
He is currently in discussions with the Greater Manchester bank to present training to the judiciary and staff and hopes to speak with the Justice Department on a broader roll-out of his course.
"The Alzheimer's Society said it had seen an increase in the number of people in their forties and fifties who had no criminal record or exemplary work experience and were in the dock," he said.
“These people were often unprepared for the trial and represented themselves, and medical reports were occasionally not ordered. You'd get under the radar and miss the first signs of dementia.
"I could understand how people with no experience with the disease could miss signs, and I thought I could help people see signs in my job."