Access to justice and legal needs. Stage 1: public consultations ( 2003 ) Cite this report
Ch 1. Who is disadvantaged in seeking access to justice?
1.6 Several submissions referred to the disadvantage faced by people with intellectual disabilities in the legal system, emphasising their over-representation within the criminal justice system (and particularly within the prison system) as cause for particular concern.
1.7 The Framework Report,3 prepared by the Intellectual Disability Rights Service and NSW Council for Intellectual Disability has highlighted many of the issues faced by people with intellectual disability within the criminal justice system.
People with intellectual disabilities face a wide range of legal problems, especially including:
– Problems with the criminal justice system as alleged offenders, victims and witnesses.
– Problems reflecting their vulnerability, physical mistreatment, financial exploitation, and inappropriate decisions being made on their behalf.4
In our society, many people automatically link people who have an intellectual disability with criminal activity. A number of explanations for this have been identified:
1.8 The prevalence of people with an intellectual disability as victims of crime, or as witnesses to crime, was noted:
Women with intellectual disability and mental illness are particularly susceptible to sexual assault.7
People with an intellectual disability may come into contact with the criminal justice system as either offenders, victims of crime or witnesses to crime. In each case, issues of identification and communication are of primary significance.8
1.10 Other issues identified for people with intellectual disabilities included:
1.11 The Background Paper identified accessibility, finance and discrimination as key legal issues for people with physical disabilities. One submission stated that people with chronic ill health, people on life support equipment and people in electric wheelchairs often have high-energy needs, and this may increase the likelihood of conflict with energy service providers.12
People with sensory disabilities
1.12 Submissions endorsed the issues identified in the Background Paper regarding people with a range of sensory disabilities.13 These were:
1.13 Several submissions noted that people with mental illness and psychiatric disabilities face similar issues of over-representation within the criminal justice system as people with intellectual disabilities, whether offenders/suspects or victims.14 In terms of being over-represented as victims of crime, the Executive Officer of People with Disabilities, Philip French stated:
I think most people would appreciate that people with disability are, to a much higher degree than many other population groups, victims of crime. That’s often because they are in situations that are dangerous and violent. For example, for the population of homeless people in some parts of Sydney, approximately 80% are people with disability, people with mental illness, brain injury and so forth. The street culture is pretty violent and people with disability get beaten up very often in those environments.15
1.14 Consultation participants also reported that self-represented litigants with mental illnesses sometimes constitute obsessive litigants, initiating litigation concerning psychosis-related delusions. This can consume significant court time and resources.16
1.15 Young people with mental illnesses were reported as being over-represented in the care and juvenile justice systems.17
People with an acquired disability
1.16 Submissions and roundtable participants identified that many people suffering from certain acquired disabilities, particularly those relating to some form of substance abuse (e.g. drug addiction) or caused by substance abuse (e.g. alcohol related brain damage) can face criminal, discrimination and also social security issues. Despite this, they are often perceived as being part of the ‘undeserving disadvantaged’.18
1.17 Young people with drug and alcohol problems were reported as being over-represented in the care and juvenile justice systems, and in need of expert assistance.19