Focus Area 1: Information and Communication
This focus area is about people with disability knowing their rights and being able to express their views. It is also about ensuring that information is shared effectively through the justice and services systems. Effective communication where information is heard and understood — both by the person with disability and by the justice system players — is vital to achieving equality before the law.
Why is this needed?
C was aged six when he disclosed he had been sexually abused by a carer who came into the family home to provide respite support for the family as two of his siblings have a disability. One of his brothers (D) was present when the abuse occurred. D has autism and is mostly non-verbal. The police tried to interview D to collect any evidence but were unable to communicate effectively with him verbally and did not pursue other options such as asking questions in writing or using a speech device (which D had used previously). D’s parents did not know they could suggest to the police other ways to communicate with D and the police did not know of other ways to communicate. As a result, D did not become a prosecution witness in the court proceedings.
This case study is an ACT case referenced in the Criminal Justice Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is an example of a person with disability being unable to participate in the justice system because of communication issues which may have been overcome if more information had been available about alternative methods of communication or alternate structures of support in place. It also highlights the vulnerability of people with disability and their families.
M lives with chronic pain and mental ill health. He was charged with assaulting his partner and could understand the charge but was not provided with any supports to participate in the justice process. This meant he was interviewed by police but could not make decisions about that process, he could not understand why he had been charged yet his partner had not been charged with assaulting him (he alleged frequent assaults) and could not understand the consequences of failure to appear in court.
This case study illustrates the need to ensure that people with disability are supported to understand what is happening to them and to participate in the justice system fully.
“If you don’t know information you can’t act.”
The provision of information is important so that people with disability can identify that they have a legal issue, what their rights are and where they can go for advice and assistance. It will assist people with disability, their families and carers to navigate a complex justice system. Access to information is also critical to supporting people with disability to make their own decisions to the best of their ability. Appropriate sharing of information is critical to allow the justice and service systems to work effectively together recognising that people with disability are often interacting with multiple organisations. It is less burdensome not to have to tell very personal information repeatedly and allows the justice and services systems to work in a more informed and efficient way. People with disability who were consulted said that they wanted their information shared, along with clear controls to ensure their personal information is collected and handled appropriately. At present we know that people experience issues relating to information and communication and this is a barrier to accessing justice. The strategy seeks to change this by improving the availability and accessibility of information about the justice system, people’s rights and how to receive assistance in accessible formats.
“There is an assumption we know how to complain and can collect documents to support it.”
There are steps that have already been taken or are in progress to achieve improvements in information and communication. The work undertaken under the strategy will seek to support ongoing efforts across government without duplication. These steps include the actions below.
The ACT Government has accepted in principle the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that all states and territories should implement an intermediary scheme. Intermediaries are communication specialists whose role it is to assist a person with communication difficulties to communicate their best evidence to the police and the courts. The intermediary scheme will commence in January 2020 with a view to expanding in its scope in the third year, to include adults with a communication difficulty.
Recent amendments to the Juries Act 1967 ensure that judges must consider the provision of reasonable supports to people with disability to allow them to discharge the duties of a juror. For example, the provision of an Auslan interpreter may enable a person with disability to participate in jury service.
In the ACT, we are already providing training to several justice organisations in the preparation of Easy English material to improve the information provided to people with disability.
However, further steps need to be taken to improving information and communication for people with disability in contact with the justice system.
We want to see that people with disability:
- are supported by the justice and service sectors so that their individual needs are met, and system issues are addressed
- have access to information, know their rights and are supported to make their own decisions
- are provided with early supports that prevent legal issues from developing
- are able to communicate effectively with the justice system
- are able to access supports for specific areas of need such as family violence and care and protection.
How will we know the strategy is working?
People with disability, their families and carers will tell us that they know what their rights are, where to find information, that the information is presented in a way that they can understand, and that the necessary supports (including communication supports) and adjustments are available to them to allow them to participate effectively in the justice system.
We will hear that people with disability feel supported to make decisions.
We will also be told by both people with disability and the justice and services sectors that information is being exchanged appropriately and effectively.
We will also hear that services have the skills to enhance supports and that reasonable adjustments are being made for people with disability.
Both government and non-government agencies will have in place plans that support disability access and inclusion to address barriers to inclusion for people with disability.