In a life threatening emergency dial Triple Zero (000)

In a life threatening emergency dial Triple Zero (000)
ACT Public Hospitals

Canberra Hospital

5124 0000


Calvary Hospital

6201 6111

Mental Health

Call Mental Health Triage on

1800 629 354

(free call except from mobiles or public phones) or

6205 1065

Poisons Hotline

For a poison emergency in Australia call

131126

Drug and Alcohol Help Line

The Drug and Alcohol Help Line is available 24-hours, 7 days a week on

5124 9977

Health Protection Service

For after hours urgent public health matters including environmental health, radiation safety, food poisoning and communicable disease management phone:

(02) 6205 1700

healthdirect

24 hour health advice

1800 022 222

ACT State Emergency Service

Emergency help
during flood or storms

132 500

Pathways to Change: The Focus Areas


Everyone has the right to reasonable adjustments

Five areas of focus for the Disability Justice Strategy have been identified as being critical to improvement and change. Case studies are given to provide context and to demonstrate the need for reform. All case studies are based on real events as described by either individuals or stakeholders and have been de-identified.

Focus area pathways

Focus Area 1: Information and Communication

Focus Area 1: Information and CommunicationI have the right to access information

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?

EXPERIENCE 1

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.

EXPERIENCE 2

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.”

Consultation participant

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.”

Consultation participant

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.

Focus Area 2: Education and Guidance

Focus Area 2: Education and GuidanceEveryone has the right to be a witness

This focus area is about developing a justice system which can notice disability, provide supports to people with disability and have the justice system work to deliver equal access to justice.

Why is this needed?

EXPERIENCE 3

S has several co-existing mental and physical disabilities and a history of trauma and domestic violence which make her particularly vulnerable. During a family law dispute, S had to answer repeated questions about the history of her relationship including from her legal advisors. She re-lived the distress and trauma repeatedly as a result and no supports were identified to mitigate the impact.

This case study demonstrates the need to provide education to services seeking to help people with disability both in terms of understanding the impact on them and how this could be avoided and/or lessened.

EXPERIENCE 4

P has an intellectual disability. He was ‘befriended’ by a person on a bus who claimed he had known him at school. This person stole from him and was reported to the police, with the allocated officer spending a long time with P taking a statement for use in a prosecution. However, the person (whose identity was known) was never charged and no explanation was given to P or his parents for this decision.

This case study illustrates that without clear training and guidance of justice system actors, people with disability are not participating fully in the justice system.

“We need to understand disability better and have better skiills. Our default to behaviour issues is to call the police.”

Consultation participant

People with disability will not receive equal access to justice if the legal/justice and services sectors are not skilled in recognising the indicators that someone may be a person with disability with additional needs or are trained in how to respond appropriately, what the person’s rights are, and what reasonable adjustments and supports are available.

“Police are good people, but they speak a different language.”

Consultation participant

The provision of education and guidance resources for frontline workers in the legal and services sectors on issues relating to living with disability would make a significant difference. It would also assist the frontline workers who are endeavouring to provide a good level of service but feel constrained by a lack of knowledge, training and resources.

Building capability in both the legal and disability service sectors will make the justice system much more responsive to people with disability.

The work under the strategy will seek to increase the availability of education for organisations working in the justice arena including the legal profession resulting in a disability-informed sector. Training is already being offered through the Community Services Directorate (Office for Disability) and the strategy will seek to continue and expand the education opportunities available.

ACT Courts and Tribunal has appointed its first Courts and Tribunal Assistance Officer, focused on ensuring the courts and tribunal are more accessible to people with disability.

In terms of future direction, we want to see that:

  • the justice system is disability-aware and able to respond to the needs of people with disability through the provision of reasonable adjustments
  • tools, resources and guidelines are being used to inform the practices of the justice system when responding to people with disability.

How will we know the Strategy is working?

The justice and disability service sectors will tell us that they have improved levels of confidence that they have the necessary levels of knowledge and expertise when engaging with people with disability.

Organisations will also report improved skills in developing accessible information. This knowledge and expertise will be supported by resources such as: handbooks; guidelines; continuing professional development; and training opportunities. People with disability will report a more skilled disability-informed sector.

Focus Area 3: Identification, Screening and Assessment

Focus Area 3: Identification, Screening and AssessmentEveryone has the right to action

This focus area is about the need to identify possible disability and take further action where required. While many people with disability are willing to self-identify, others are not due to concern about stigmatisation. This means it is important that the justice and services systems are capable of recognising disability support needs and making practical adjustments.

Why is this needed?

EXPERIENCE 5

J has an intellectual disability and speech impediment. He was threatened with assault at a shopping centre and reported the incident to both the shopping centre and police. Both stated they could not assist him. He was supported by a legal services provider to make a disability discrimination complaint against the shopping centre. At a conciliation meeting the shopping centre management stated they were unaware of J’s disability and apologised. They agreed to introduce him to their staff to prevent him being refused assistance in the future and asked to use his Easy English statement to train staff on how to respond better to people with disability.

This case study demonstrates that when disability is not identified, access to justice can be impeded and that by improving identification and understanding this can be overcome.

EXPERIENCE 6

K requires support to participate in daily activities including management of vital medications, transport and therapy to build skill in domestic and community activities. These support needs were identified during time in detention and he was referred to the National Disability Insurance Agency prior to his release. Access to the scheme was denied and he was released without supports in place. Crisis response and informal family support were not sufficient to meet his needs. He offended and was imprisoned again.

There is very little data collected in the ACT about people with disability and the justice system. While there is relevant national data which provides some insights into the likely position in the ACT, it is important ongoing work is informed by accurate data and evidence.

We need to improve the ways we identify people in contact with the justice system who have disability because:

  • a coherent picture with enough detail will ensure we focus our main efforts where there is greatest need
  • it will allow us to assist people with disability at an individual level and by meeting their needs reduce their contact with the justice system
  • it will help the justice system provide appropriate solutions.

Identification can occur through people working in the justice and services sectors noticing characteristics or traits which would indicate a need for reasonable adjustments to be made.

In some circumstances using a screening tool would provide an indication of disability warranting reasonable adjustment, otherwise the need for adjustments may be missed or overlooked. For example, screening a person who has been arrested for an alleged offence or on admission to detention would not only assist in supporting and responding to the person appropriately, it would provide useful data to develop trend indicators.

Conducting a more in-depth assessment of need allows for a more comprehensive understanding of what reasonable adjustments can be made.

Advocacy for Inclusion has developed police wallet cards designed for people with disability, in consultation with the Australian Federal Police. The card is to assist people with disability in contact with the police, support the person to explain their situation and provide the police with awareness to make reasonable adjustment.

How will we know the Strategy is working?

We will see more identification, screening and assessment points in the justice and services systems being created and operating effectively. People with disability will report receiving appropriate supports during their interactions with the justice system.

Focus Area 4: Better Service Delivery

Focus Area 4: Better Service DeliveryEveryone has the right to be understood and understand

This focus area is about how services for people with disability could be improved and the ‘dots are joined’ to allow for a complete picture of service and support needs to be created for a person with disability.

Why is this needed?

EXPERIENCE 7

F is a former paramedic who acquired a brain injury. He lived with his wife but received no supports for his disability and rarely left his bedroom. His wife struggled to cope with his behaviour and following an assault on her, F was charged. He was remanded in custody in large part because no alternative accommodation was available. While at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, a range of supports were provided which allowed him to participate in activities resulting in improved mood and self-care. On his release from detention he went to live in supported accommodation and receives ongoing supports including the assistance of an occupational therapist to provide a structured environment and living plan. He has not committed any further offences.

This case study demonstrates that if needs are identified and the right services provided a person with disability can avoid contact with the justice system.

EXPERIENCE 8

A and B are a couple, one of whom has a mild intellectual disability. A was expecting a child and concerns were held about her and her partner’s ability to parent. An advocacy service became involved and was able to liaise extensively with the couple and their extended family, assist them to enrol in parenting classes and advocate for them at meetings with Child and Youth Protection Services (Child and Youth Protection Services). A restorative practice approach was proposed to formalise how the extended family could support the couple and the advocate worked with the family to come up with a written plan. Child and Youth Protection Services has concluded the case because they are satisfied that the parents are willing and able to care for their child.

This case study illustrates that by taking an innovative approach services can work together to achieve a positive outcome for people with disability and their families.

In order to achieve equal access to justice for people with disability, it is necessary to:

  • intervene early in the life of a person and/or the life of a legal issue
  • have a justice and service system which identifies need and authorises the delivery of services to meet that need
  • ensure the right services exist to meet the needs of people with disability in contact with the justice system
  • link the justice system and services to allow for effective communication between the justice system and services and also between services.

Since the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in the ACT, there has been a shift to the provision of individualised supports for people with disability rather than a service system. While the person-centred approach of the NDIS has benefitted more than 6,000 people with disability in the ACT, it has changed the viability of some block-funded programs that existed just in case they were required. This is particularly problematic for the more than 55,000 people with disability in the ACT who do not qualify for NDIS assistance.

There are services in the ACT which seek to assist people with disability in contact with the justice system. However, consultation indicated that there are gaps in the services being provided and indicators that existing services have insufficient capacity to meet the legal/ justice needs of people with disability.

Effective links between the justice system and human services are key to ensuring information is shared (where appropriate) and the ‘dots are joined’ to allow for a complete picture of service and support needs to be created for a person with disability.

The strategy will build greater coordination and collaboration across systems to the benefit of individuals.

In the ACT we are already holding ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal guardianship hearings at hospitals allowing people with psychosocial and mental health disabilities to attend hearings where they are discussed.

In the future we want to see that:

  • the justice and services systems work in a coordinated, cohesive way to support people with disability to navigate the justice system and achieve long-term cultural change
  • the justice system is able to respond to people with disability from vulnerable groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, children, women, victims and detainees
  • services are available to meet the needs of people with disability in contact with the justice system.

How will we know the strategy is working?

We will have effective systems and services in place to ensure the needs of people with disability in contact with the justice system are met. There will be a positive authorising environment where all organisations have a clear mandate for their role and are supported by people who work collaboratively to achieve better outcomes for people with disability.

Everyone has the right to make their own decisions

Focus Area 5: Data, Research and Review

Focus Area 5: Data, Research and ReviewEveryone has the right to understood

This focus area is about knowing what success looks like for the Disability Justice Strategy. The strategy will need to consider how systems can be created or adapted to collect and hold data and how information held about people with disability can be appropriately and safely shared to allow the justice system to work more effectively.

Why is this needed?

EXPERIENCE 9

D lives with enduring mental ill health and experiences significant impairment to participating in daily activities. He was assaulted by a neighbour and complained to the police and other agencies. He found none were able to respond to the needs he expressed. The only solution D could see was to move but he does not have the resources to do so. He remains in his house, feeling trapped and increasingly disconnected from services. He is vulnerable to crime and behaviours which express his frustration. He feels the justice system has, perhaps unconsciously, diminished his legitimate concerns because of his psychosocial disability.

This case study illustrates the importance of gathering and sharing data/information. If the system had worked effectively to collate incidents and make reasonable adjustments, the situation may have been resolved rather than D now perceiving that the system has failed him.

As already stated, there is a lack of data about people with disability in contact with the justice system. By collecting and analysing data, we will be able to create an accurate picture of the needs of people with disability specifically in the context of the ACT. This will allow actions and resources to be directly effectively to achieve maximum impact. It will also mean that we will be able to measure success both internally in the ACT and against other jurisdictions. We will be able to use the data for research purposes to inform future actions under the strategy.

Reviewing progress under the strategy is critical to understanding whether initiatives are achieving their goals and whether adjustments or larger-scale changes need to be made. It is also important to inform the development of new initiatives over the life-time of the strategy. Reviews will take place in years 3 and 7, with a final review at the end of the strategy in year 10.

In addition to specific review points, ongoing oversight of work being done under the Disability Justice Strategy will ensure a coordinated approach and that consistent momentum is maintained to achieve change.

We want to see that:

  • data gathering is happening across the system
  • data is being used to inform future policy development
  • data is being used to assess the effectiveness of initiatives under the strategy.

How will we know the strategy is working?

We will have an improved picture of how many people with a disability are in contact with the justice system and the reasons for that contact. Information will be held and shared appropriately within and between the justice system and services and the justice system will work more effectively as a consequence.

The reviews will demonstrate positive progress in achieving equal access to justice for people with disability, and the strategy will evolve as a result of a strong evidence base.

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