Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Kelly Vincent – Vision Australia Interview on Changes to the Justice System for People with Disabilities
On Wednesday, 16th December 2015, Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent was interviewed on Vision Australia radio station to discuss the legislative changes that were passed this year to increase the accessibility of the justice system for people with disabilities. Here is the audio and transcript from the interview.
Pam Green: Time now to welcome to 5RPH, Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent. Hi Kelly.
Kelly Vincent: Hi Pam.
Pam Green: Well one of the policy and legislative areas you continue to work on are issues around access to the justice system for people with disabilities. Can you tell us about legislative changes you’ve been involved in this year in parliament?
Kelly Vincent: Well certainly this year Dignity for Disability were very pleased to see the unanimous passage of a bill that puts into law many of the measures discussed in the disability justice plan. These include providing for communication assistance, also known as communication partners, for people who need it to give their evidence in court. This might be someone whose disability effects the way they speak or perhaps they’re not able to speak and need to communicate through another method, or they might have an intellectual disability or a cognitive impairment like a brain injury and need to use an alternative communication method because of that disability.
Also they can now have what are known as Ground Rules Hearings, these are test hearings which will set out how a case will be conducted, for example what is admissible in evidence and what type of questions can be asked of a defendant, witness or a victim, particularly if the victim has literacy or communication issues for example, which means that long winded questions might confuse them. So Ground Rules Hearings will allow for the judge to say that questions need to be communicated in a way that the witness can clearly understand.
The changes also provide for allowing the use of audio visual records for interviews as evidence in court, particularly where witnesses or victims are children of or under the age of 14 years or an adult who has a disability that affects their capacity to give evidence, particularly in cases involving sexual violence. It also lays out how those audio visual interviews are to be conducted. Importantly, the changes also allow for what is called “hear say” evidence in some cases, very restricted cases but very important nonetheless. For example, this means that a teacher, friend, parent or other caregiver may be able to disclose a change in behaviour or something that was disclosed to them by an alleged victim of a crime for example that would be able to be used as evidence in a court.
And lastly, it amends the Evidence Act to allow for an exemption for the need to give evidence in court so that witnesses won’t have to appear in the trial if they are particularly distressed for example and this strengthens the ability of the court to prevent complex and deliberately confusing cross examination that we just talked about earlier.
Pam Green: But why does this really matter, I mean are people with disabilities more likely to be victims of crimes or be involved with the police or the courts or the justice systems as offenders or even alleged offenders?
Kelly Vincent: Unfortunately, statistically yes, people with disabilities are more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of crimes. But I’d like to touch specifically on people with disabilities as victims for a moment and the statistics that demonstrate why it’s so important that we give better access to victims with disabilities or alleged victims of disabilities better access to our justice system. Children with disability in particular are at least between two and seven times more likely to suffer abuse of some kind, be it physical, or sexual violence in their lifetime compared to children without disabilities. Similarly women with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic violence and face additional challenges when trying to recognise and leave a violent situation. So there are a lot of factors that factor into this and unfortunately it results in the fact that women with intellectual disability in particular are at a far greater likelihood of experiencing sexual violence. In fact it’s suggested that as many as 90% of women with intellectual disabilities have experienced violence in their lifetime.
Pam Green: And finally today, we understand there’s some concerns around the implementation of the communication partner scheme for Dignity for Disability, Speech Pathology Australia and the Law Society. Could you outline what these concerns are?
Kelly Vincent: Sure, currently the communication partner scheme which we talked about a few minutes ago is aimed to be provided by volunteers so that communication assistance in a court will be provided by a volunteer. We certainly have concerns about this as does the Law Society and Speech Pathology Australia because, firstly there’s concerns that when people are volunteers and not being paid to provide that support they won’t necessarily be available with the same consistency as someone who’s being paid as it’s their job to appear in court on particular days. So when you’re relying on volunteers there are potential concerns around the consistency of the same person providing that support. Additionally there’s been some concerns raised with us by Speech Pathology that volunteers, even though they will undergo some training to be a part of the scheme, won’t have the high level professional training that a trained professional communication assistant in other jurisdictions have. For example in the UK under what they call their intermediary scheme, their communication assistance scheme, the assistance is provided in a court by a trained and paid professional, often someone who yes, has undergone additional training to become an intermediary. But they also have a relevant background most commonly as I understand it in speech pathology. So they already have a background in communicating with people who have complex and alternative communication needs. And we think that would provide some more certainty and more quality of the communication assistance provided in the court. So we’ll continue to work with Speech Pathology and the Law Society as well as the government to make sure we strike the right balance in getting this very important scheme right.
Pam Green: Well look Kelly that’s it for the year. Again thank you so much for your time.
Kelly Vincent: I wish you and your listeners a great break, a great Christmas and a fantastic and restful new year.
Pam Green: Dignity for Disability MLC, Kelly Vincent.