Thursday, 14 May 2015
Kelly Vincent – Vision Australia Interview on New Legislation for Disability Justice Plan
On 13 May 2015 Dignity for Disability MLC, Kelly Vincent was interviewed on radio station RPH regarding new legislation to improve access to the justice system for people with disabilities. This legislation was recently put to Parliament by the Attorney General as part of the Disability Justice Plan. Here is the audio and transcript of that interview.
RICHARD MORGAN: Time to welcome to RPH Dignity for Disability MLC, Kelly Vincent. Hi Kelly.
KELLY VINCENT: Hi Richard.
RICHARD MORGAN: Kelly, I understand a new Bill has just been introduced to Parliament in the disability justice area. It’s a further step in the implementation of the Disability Justice Plan. Can you tell us a bit about which laws this bill amends?
KELLY VINCENT: I certainly can, Richard. It is a comprehensive piece of legislation which amends a number of acts, so it is quite detailed. Firstly, it amends the District Courts Act 1991 to make sure that trials relating to sexual offences are not only given priority when they involve children, but also where a person who is giving evidence in that case may have a disability that affects their memory, or ability to recall events. In particular, intellectual disability.
The next thing it does is change the Evidence Act, and there are several changes to that act under this bill. Firstly, it makes provisions for “unsworn” evidence in previous trial special hearings – special arrangements for potentially vulnerable witnesses. (The bill allows for) the admission of recorded evidence in certain criminal proceedings. It amends the act to allow for audio-visual recordings of the evidence of potentially vulnerable witnesses.
It also entitles vulnerable witnesses, such as people with some disabilities, to a communication assistant in certain circumstances, to allow them to help facilitate a conversation between a witness and the magistrate, for example.
The bill also disallows inappropriate questions – such as questioning that is specifically designed to confuse or intimidate a person. This could be particularly relevant where a witness has an intellectual disability as needs communication to be very clear and straightforward.
And finally, it amends the Evidence Act again to allow out of court statements as evidence in certain circumstances – especially sexual offences. It also allows the court to be cleared if sensitive evidence is being given. The bill also amends the Magistrates Act and Summary Offences Act to allow for fair trials and access to justice for people with disabilities. So, lots of different acts being amended here, but the key things are: allow and communication assistants; giving priority represents disability that may affect their ability to recall relevant evidence in the appropriate period of time, and basically allowing for witnesses with disabilities – whether adults or children – to give evidence in an independent and dignified way.
RICHARD MORGAN: Some people will ask why we need these laws amended.
KELLY VINCENT: Well, it’s a good question, and it certainly is an important area of legal reform, Richard. Unfortunately there are many reasons that these laws need to be amended, and in many cases that demonstrate the need for these changes. There have been many instances where people disabilities have not been able to access the Justice system – not because of their own failings, but because of the lack of flexibility in the justice system as it has stood historically. One particular example has been the Christies Beach case where seven children with intellectual disability and speech related disability were allegedly sexually abused by their school bus driver, and they were not able to give evidence in a court because there was no facilities to allow them to do that, because of their limited verbal capacity. So we need to create a justice system which can respect the autonomy and the capabilities of people with disability rather than assuming that we are incapable because of the system that is not set up in a way which allows our independence and our contribution.
RICHARD MORGAN: Finally, Kelly, what improvements can we hope to see in the justice system for people with disabilities if these laws pass in Parliament?
KELLY VINCENT: I know that Dignity for Disability hopes, as well is the Attorney General’s Department, with whom Dignity for Disability has worked very hard on this bill, hope that this will see more cases involving witnesses with disabilities as he the alleged perpetrators, witnesses or alleged victims, will go to court, and therefore send a very strong message, particularly in the sexual assault area, that we do not tolerate as a community, the assault of people with disabilities, and that they will be less mechanisms for people to get away with that abuse.
RICHARD MORGAN: Thanks for talking with us tonight, Kelly.
KELLY VINCENT: That’s a pleasure. Thanks, Richard, for your interest.
RICHARD MORGAN: Dignity for Disability MLC, Kelly Vincent.