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More accessible justice system for people with disability

10 June 2014

The 2014-15 State Budget will include $3.2 million over four years to fund a range of measures to ensure people with disability are better served by the justice system.

Cabinet has approved the final Disability Justice Plan, which will improve access to the justice system for people with disability and provide increased support.

The $3.2 million plan includes $300,000 over two years for the Legal Services Commission to deliver an important community awareness and information program.

The Government will also implement a Communications Assistant Scheme to provide support to people with complex communication needs throughout their contact with the criminal justice system.

The plan also includes:

  • Specialist training for police and other investigative interviewers to ensure that the best possible evidence is obtained from witnesses with disability 
  • Extending the priority listing of sexual assault trials to include those where the alleged victim has a cognitive impairment
  • A commitment to undertake a review of criminal screening processes for those who work with children and vulnerable adults.

The Government will introduce new legislation and amend current legislation to better serve people with disability, including expanding the definition of a vulnerable witness, new laws regarding the sexual abuse of persons with a cognitive impairment and special arrangements to assist witnesses with disability in court.

The State Government worked on the development of the plan in consultation with Margie Charlesworth, whose experience with the justice system as a person with disability, helped shape the recommendations.

“I have a Cerebral Palsy accent and while this does not stop me communicating in everyday life, it created some issues when I was required to give evidence in court,” Ms Charlesworth said.

“I was really taken aback when, after many months of going through the reporting process and working with the prosecutors, I was then asked by the Court Liaison Officer for the number of an interpreting service that would assist in ‘echoing’ my testimony.

“Because no two people with Cerebral Palsy experience the disability in the same way there is no service that specialises in understanding those with these accents.

“When I was asked to use an interpreter by the Court Liaison Officer, I remember feeling defeated, that my word no longer mattered, and that my testimony wouldn’t be valid unless someone else ‘translated’ it.

“I’m passionate on this issue because there are many others, whether victims or perpetrators with disabilities, who are not being heard within our justice system. The consequence of that is neither are heard and as such neither can get justice.”