A new resource to help promote access to justice for people with disabilities has been launched in Victoria. The Bench Book is an online facility that provides information and guidance for judicial officers. It focuses on how judicial officers can make adjustments to communication and in direct hearings where people with a disability are complainants, defendants, witnesses or otherwise participating in hearings. The resource has specific chapters looking at equality and human rights protection and how courts may need to address disabilities before, during and after hearings.

It was launched by the Judicial Council of Victoria and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and produced in consultation with peak disability sector groups. One in five Australians has a disability and many experience barriers in a range of areas including in courts and the justice system.

Victorian Human Rights Commissioner, Kristen Hilton, pictured, said physical and communication access barriers in court can make it difficult for some people with disabilities to participate equally and receive a fair hearing. “This Bench Book will go a long way towards assisting people with disabilities to access justice on an equal basis with others,” she said.

It is the first Bench Book dedicated specifically to disability in Australia. However other ‘equality before the law’ or similar bench books providing information on meeting the needs of a range of community members, including people with disabilities in court, exist in other jurisdictions. An example is the Equality Before the Law Bench Book in NSW.

For more information on the Bench Book visit: http://www.judicialcollege.vic.edu.au/disability-access-bench-book