Kelly in the Media

Inquiry Reveals Disabled People are Failed by Justice System

Caroline Winter reported this story on Thursday, July 25, 2013 18:30:00

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MARK COLVIN: An inquiry has found that the South Australian justice system is failing people with intellectual disabilities. A parliamentary report just tabled, found the current system left disabled people more vulnerable to abuse, from their dealings with police to the courts. The report made eight recommendations which will feed into the State’s overarching Disability Justice Plan. Caroline Winter reports.

CAROLINE WINTER: “Natasha” who doesn’t want to give her real name, is the mother of an intellectually disabled child. Eighteen months ago, charges against a bus driver alleged to have sexually abused her son, and six other disabled children in Adelaide, were dropped.

NATASHA: I guess fighting and trying to make the law system better for these children and vulnerable children and vulnerable adults is giving me some sort of closure with the ordeal.

CAROLINE WINTER: The case never made it to trial because the alleged victims – aged six to 13 – couldn’t verbally testify against the man and weren’t seen as reliable witnesses. The high profile case prompted a parliamentary committee to investigate the difficulties disabled people face when they use the state’s justice system Dignity for Disability MP Kelly Vincent lead the inquiry.

KELLY VINCENT: Their families were very frustrated, hurt and let down by this Government because our current justice system here in South Australia does not allow for witnesses who may have some complex and alternative communication methods to give evidence in a court.

CAROLINE WINTER: Kelly Vincent says people with a disability are between four and seven times more likely to experience some type of physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime. And that offenders know they’re more likely to get away with a crime when the witness is vulnerable.

KELLY VINCENT: That in itself I think is clear evidence that the system needs to improve, not only to allow people to receive justice once they have been wronged or have indeed go through the system if they are a perpetrator themselves but also to prevent the likelihood of this sort of thing from happening in the first place.

CAROLINE WINTER: The inquiry found people with disabilities feel locked out of the justice system. The report, tabled in state Parliament today, offered eight recommendations. Among them, education for lawyers and court officials on disability related matters. Training within the police force, so officers can understand the needs of those with disabilities. Mandatory reporting of abuse and neglect for anyone working with people with disabilities. And the appointment of a disability justice advocate – who would help a disabled person negotiate the system.

KELLY VINCENT: They are a trained professionals communicating with people with disabilities, who might communicate in ways that are different to verbal, or perhaps they have a reduced verbal capacity allowing the person to help the person with a disability communicate with the judge or with the police officer and so on.

CAROLINE WINTER: John Brayley is South Australia’s Public Advocate and has backed that recommendation 100 per cent.

JOHN BRAYLEY: Certainly there’s good evidence in other jurisdictions, the independent third persons in Victoria and in the UK, intermediaries who are trained professionals who for example can help at court. I think what’s good about this South Australian recommendation is that it recognises that a range of people could be asked to do this support role.

CAROLINE WINTER: But he wants to see more than ideas and plans. JOHN

BRAYLEY: As recently as yesterday I heard about another case about a person who had been assaulted and couldn’t get a case up because of issues about evidence. So I think it’s going to be really important that these actions occur sooner rather than later.

CAROLINE WINTER: The report will feed into the state’s Disability Justice Plan which will also include proposals to change laws and assist people with disabilities to give evidence in court. South Australia Attorney-General John Rau.

JOHN RAU: Part of what will come out of this, definitely, is a proposal for amendments to the Evidence Act to enable people with disabilities to be better accommodated in the courts.

CAROLINE WINTER: In terms of the timeline for implementing any recommendations from this report, the plan which will eventually be finished and the changes to the Act, when could we actually see I guess some action that will protect these people?

JOHN RAU: Subject to the consultation on the final proposals going fairly smoothly, we could start to see things roll out towards the end of this year. CAROLINE WINTER: “Natasha” says it can’t come soon enough.

NATASHA: I don’t want any other parent to go through what we went through, so it needs to be implemented and it needs to come sooner than later otherwise more children, more vulnerable people will be affected.

MARK COLVIN: The mother of an intellectually disabled boy ending Caroline Winter’s report.