Government plans to fund a £25m scheme providing mental health services at police stations and courts are a ‘thin layer of icing on a cake that is already falling apart’, according to a prominent mental health lawyer.

The ‘liaison and diversion programme’ aims to identify offenders with mental health problems before they enter the criminal justice system, directing them towards health professionals and care in the community.

Health minister Norman Lamb (pictured) said: ‘Diverting the individual away from offending and helping to reduce the risk of more victims suffering due to further offences benefits everyone.’

Mental Health Lawyers Association chair Richard Charlton said that while he welcomed the pilot scheme, it does nothing to address the ‘noticeable decline in available hospital beds’ or the ‘ongoing crisis’ in providing help in the community. ‘Why divert offenders when there is nowhere for them to go?’ said Charlton.

‘There are reports of people as far south as Kent looking for hospital beds in Scotland. This is all no more than a thin layer of icing on a cake that is already falling apart.’

Centre for Mental Health deputy chief executive Andy Bell said the initiative does ‘unlock opportunities’ to make a difference. He added: ‘By identifying people with mental illnesses earlier, well-functioning liaison and diversion can ensure they get support in prison or on the outside to prevent further offending.’

Liaison and diversion was one of the key suggestions of Lord Bradley’s 2009 review of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system.

During the coming year, the £25m will help join up police and courts systems with mental health services in 10 pilot areas. If successful, the scheme will be extended across the country by 2017.