Justice System Shake-Up for People With Disability
7 July 2015 at 11:28 am
The South Australian justice system will receive a shake-up following the alleged abuse of seven children with disability by a school bus driver.
Dignity for Disability politician Kelly Vincent praised the passing of an “historic” Bill through the South Australian Parliament which she said would enshrine improvements in the justice system for people with disability.
Vincent said the legislation would form part of the Disability Justice Plan.
“Not long after I was first elected to the Parliament in 2010, I was made aware of horrific cases of alleged abuse perpetrated against seven young children under who had intellectual and communication disabilities. These abuses were allegedly perpetrated by their school bus driver in the southern suburbs of Adelaide,” Vincent said.
“This case has never proceeded to trial. This is because our police, courts and justice system neither caters for people with different communication needs nor does it recognise specialist methods of evidence collection and interview styles needed in some cases.
“I dearly hope that this legislation will go some way to preventing this gross miscarriage of justice in the future."
Some of the changes that will be introduced because of the Bill include;
The use of hearsay evidence in some cases. For example a teacher, or parent, or care-giver, reporting what a child has disclosed to them.
Provision for Communications Assistants or Communication Partners for people that need it, such someone with a communication disability, or with an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, or with an alternative communication method, for example, a child with autism that uses sign language to communicate will now be admissible in court.
There can now be Ground Rules Hearings – this will set out how a case will be conducted. For example, what is admissible evidence, what type of questions can be asked of vulnerable defendants, witnesses, and victims. This measure has been very successful in the United Kingdom.
It will extend the priority listing of trials to include people with disability whose disability affects memory so that the trial must be within three months of arraignment. An example of this type of disability might be someone with acquired brain injury (ABI) or cognitive impairment. At the moment only trials involving children get that priority listing.
Amendments to section 21 and section 25 of the Evidence Act. This allows an exemption for the need to give evidence in court – it is hoped that some witnesses won’t need to appear in the trial and will clarify and strengthens the courts ability to prevent complex and confusing cross-examination.
“This is another positive step for the provision of a fair justice system in South Australia,” Vincent said.