Do you support clients with an intellectual disability who are in contact with the criminal justice system, as victims, witnesses or offenders? Are you part of a service where it is important to identify people with intellectual disabilities, in order to safeguard their rights?

In 2013, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a wide-rangingconsultation process to identify how people with disabilities deal with the barriers they experience to equality before the law (Australian Human Rights Commission, (2014) Equal before the law. Towards disability justice strategies. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission.p. 5).

“The consultation process revealed:

  • Inability to access effective justice compounds disadvantages experienced by people with disabilities.
  • Many people with disabilities are left without protection and at risk of ongoing violence.
  • People with disabilities experience a relatively high risk of being jailed and are then likely to have repeated contact with the criminal justice system.
  • Many offenders with disability have themselves been victims of violence and this had not been responded to appropriately, contributing to a cycle of offending.
  • There is widespread difficulty identifying disability and responding to it appropriately.
  • Necessary supports and adjustments are not provided because the need is not recognised.
  • When a person’s disability is identified, necessary modifications and supports are frequently not provided.
  • People with disabilities are not being heard because of perceptions they are unreliable, not credible or incapable of being witnesses.
  • Erroneous assessments are being made about the legal competence of people with disabilities.
  • Styles of communication and questioning techniques used by police, lawyers, courts and custodial officers can confuse a person with disability.
  • Appropriate diversionary measures are underutilised, not available or not effective due to lack of appropriate supports and services.
  • People with disabilities are less likely to get bail and more likely to breach bail because they have not understood the bail conditions”.

Research shows:

  • In NSW Local Courts, over 10% of accused persons have deficits in cognitive reasoning, a 2009 study shows.
  • Over-representation of people with intellectual disabilities at various stages of the criminal justice system has been found in other jurisdictions including the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Norway and Finland.
  • People with intellectual disabilities in the criminal justice system are likely to have co-existing mental health or substance abuse diagnoses.