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Criminal justice system failing disabled people, says EHRC

19 June 2020

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published the full findings of its inquiry into whether the criminal justice system treats disabled people fairly.

The equality watchdog concludes that the criminal justice system is failing those with learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders and brain injuries and needs reform in order to ensure a fair trial for all.

The EHRC finds that:

  • there is an overrepresentation of people with learning disabilities and mental health issues within the system that the government has failed to document;
  • that those accused aren’t routinely provided with adjustments they need to participate in the justice process; and
  • that too many legal professionals do not have adequate training to appropriately deal with impairments.

Highlighting that increased digitalisation of the system threatens disabled people’s access to justice – as it risks them being even less able to understand what is happening, and communicate, than when they are participating in person – the EHRC stresses the urgency of reform of the system to meet disabled people’s needs, in turn improving it for all court users.

The EHRC makes five recommendations to the UK and Scottish Governments and relevant agencies:

  • 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 defendants and 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
  • ensure initial professional qualification training for law students includes disability awareness, all relevant codes of conduct and standards are amended to specifically include disability awareness as a professional requirement, and disability awareness is a mandatory element of continuing professional development for those working in criminal law

 The EHRC report Inclusive justice: a system designed for all is available from equalityhumanrights.com