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

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

The EHRC said the UK and Scottish Government need to make it a priority to understand the needs of disabled people in the system

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 (EHRC) said people with learning disabilities, autism and brain injuries have been left "bewildered" by the system as they called for urgent reforms to ensure they are given a fair trial.

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 report said that the Scottish Government should create a system that will ensure appropriate collection and sharing of information on identified needs and recommended adjustments across health, social work and justice.

It also called on Scottish Government and relevant agencies to:

  • ensure departments and executive agencies address gaps in the collection, monitoring and analysis of disability data, and ensure there is clear regulatory oversight to monitor their effective participation
  • develop early and effective screening for all accused people and give consideration to how screening might work for those involved in criminal proceedings where the route does not involve the police and/or custody
  • ensure timely access and sharing of information
  • support the duty to make reasonable adjustments and respect fair trial rights through for example the introduction of a registered intermediary service

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.

John Wilkes, head of Scotland at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “A non-discriminatory criminal justice system, that everyone can participate in, underpins our society. It stands for democracy, equality and the rule of law.

“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 not able to effectively participate. Clearly the system needs a redesign.

“The Scottish Government and executive agencies 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 justice system fair for all.”   

David Isaac, Chair of the EHRC, said the findings proved the system needed a "redesign".

"A non-discriminatory criminal justice system, that everyone can participat 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."

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Justice

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