Disabled people being 'failed' by criminal justice system, equality watchdog warns

Government "need to make it a priority to understand the needs of disabled people in the system"


By Alain Tolhurst

11 Jun 2020

Photo: PA

Disabled people facing trial are being "failed" by the criminal justice system, the UK's equality watchdog has warned.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said people with learning disabilities, autism and brain injuries have been left "bewildered" by the system as it called for urgent reforms to ensure they are given a fair trial.

The EHRC also wants the Ministry of Justice to halt further reforms of the system until they have established a "clear evidence base" of the barriers facing disabled people.



In a new report, the watchdog found that many people with disabilities and mental health issues were not being provided with the adjustments needed to ensure they could properly participate in the legal process.

And it warned that that too many legal professionals lacked the training to deal with disabled victims and defendants.

The EHRC also found an overrepresentation of people with disabilities in the system because the government had failed to accurately document the figures.

The warning comes after a recent EHRC report found the increasing use of video hearings to conduct trials during the coronavirus pandemic had "significantly hindered" communication and understanding for people with disabilities.

EHRC chair David Isaac said the findings proved the system needed a "redesign".

"A non-discriminatory criminal justice system, that everyone can participate in, underpins our society. It stands for democracy, equality and the rule of law," he said.

"It should give us all the chance of a fair trial, no matter who we are. But disabled people often face barriers to understanding their situation and making themselves properly understood to others.

"This can result in them feeling bewildered by the system and treated unfairly, which puts their right to a fair trial at risk."

He added: "The UK and Scottish Government need to make it a priority to understand the needs of disabled people in the system, giving serious consideration to our findings and recommendations, and commit to making our criminal justice systems fair for all."

The MoJ must meanwhile establish a "clear evidence base" of the obstacles disabled people face before pushing ahead with any further reforms of the system, the report said..

And it called for "early and effective screening" to ensure people with disabilities are identified sooner.

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Courts and Tribunal Service, said: "We work closely with disability groups to ensure we have reduced the barriers that disabled people may face throughout justice system.

"This includes identifying people who have mental health, learning disabilities, substance misuse or other vulnerabilities at the earliest opportunity, and providing intermediaries to help with remote hearings.

"We welcome the EHRC’s report and look forward to engaging with them to help improve our provisions further."

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