All states should urgently develop a strategy so people with disability are treated more fairly before our courts. This follows a report from the Human Rights Commission that found discrimination in Australia’s justice system against people with disability is widespread.
Speaking at the launch of the HRCs Equal Before the Law report, Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said it was disappointing that the justice system still has a level of inequality and the case for change is clear.
“The problems cannot continue. Australians with disabilities, particularly those with communication challenges or complex support needs do not receive equal treatment in our criminal justice system. This is true whether they are victims, witnesses or alleged offenders.” Innes said this resulted in adverse outcomes particularly involving difficulties with police and lack or time and understanding in the court system.
“Not only is more damage done to people with disability who have negative experiences in the justice system there is an increased cost to the community. We must provide for better coordination of services and recognise the impact of disability within the justice system.”
To prepare the report, the HRC met with Attorney’s General in each state and legal practitioners as well as consultations with people with disabilities.
“The Human Rights Commission has not found the silver bullet but proposes that any disability justice strategy be developed in partnership with people with disabilities.” He said the principles and actions in such strategies should address safety, effective access to justice, non-discrimination and appropriate communication in addition to early intervention, increases in services and support, enhanced monitoring by people with disability and more effective training on disability.
He added that a complimentary role for the disability services sector was critical and this issue was raised frequently during consultations. “One of the gaps we saw was between the justice system and disability support system with courts choosing jail because of no other alternatives.
“People with disabilities with the right support and communication equipment should, and can be heard, by a justice system in an equal way to all other Australians,” Innes said.
Caption: Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes with president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs.