People with a disability unequal before the law, Human Rights Commission says

Mon 3 February 2014

The Human Rights Commission has found that discrimination against people with a disability is widespread in Australia's justice system.

It will recommend that each state urgently develop a strategy to ensure people with a disability are treated fairly before the courts and their rights are respected.

The HRC's Equal Before the Law report features case studies of people with disability who are not getting an equal opportunity before the law.

"We heard from a woman called Maria who has cerebral palsy and little speech," Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said.

"She wanted to tell police about a sexual assault but there was no communications support worker to help with the statement. The police relied on Maria's parents to provide communication support.”

"Maria was, of course, uncomfortable giving personal details of the assault to police in front of her parents. So her evidence was incomplete, and this caused problems for the investigation and during the court process."

The report recommends that each state urgently reform the legal system to ensure that people with a disability are not further discriminated against, Mr Innes said.

"We recommended that each jurisdiction - state, territory and Commonwealth - need to develop a holistic disability justice strategy... which is developed in partnership with people with disabilities," he said.

"That strategy would need to cover the availability of supports, the availability of better communication facilities, more training for police and corrections officers, more awareness of disabilities in the court system, some revisions of the 'unfit to plead' laws in several jurisdictions, and also some corrections of the negative way in which people with disability are perceived.

"That negative perception leads on to the weight that their evidence is given and judgments about whether matters should be proceeded with or how they should be proceeded with."

Read full story on ABC website.

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