The Criminal Justice System – Issues Paper
26 August 2020
The Law Council made a substantial submission to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Royal Commission) in response to its Issues Paper: Criminal Justice System. The Law Council welcomes the Royal Commission’s focus on this issue.
People with disability are significantly overrepresented across the criminal justice system in Australia, as victims as well as persons accused or convicted of crime. They are also at heightened risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in criminal justice settings. The Law Council’s submission considers some of the issues that people with disability face when they come into contact with the criminal justice system.
These range from inaccessible information, formats and processes, physical inaccessibility, poor communication, inflexible court procedures, to an under-resourced legal assistance sector. Without efforts to overcome these barriers, the system will remain largely inaccessible for many people with disability and continue to produce unjust outcomes.
The submission also considers some of the changes that would help people with disability avoid the system in the first place. Concerted efforts to increase targeted prevention and early intervention initiatives for people with disability are needed. These initiatives include better identification of disability, and greater access to disability and mental health support and rehabilitation programs, education, youth engagement, job skills, income and family support. Access to appropriate housing, including bail accommodation, is also critical.
People with disability commonly experience cumulative and intersectional disadvantage. The submission highlights the experience of First Nations persons with disability, in particular First Nations children and young people, who are substantially overrepresented across the criminal justice system. While the new Closing The Gap justice targets are insufficiently ambitious, they present an important opportunity for all levels of government to work with First Nations’ communities to progress multi-faceted solutions in this area.
Other important responses in this area include expanding the lead role of community-controlled organisations in achieving justice outcomes, expanding Indigenous specialist sentencing courts, and building on successful justice reinvestment trials. For First Nations children and young people, answers include increased emphasis on early diagnosis and support, raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility and expanding successful community-driven youth engagement and diversion models.
The Law Council draws heavily upon key findings from its Justice Project Final Report 2018 concerning people with disability and their interaction with the criminal justice system, while also incorporating more recent material.
A broader submission in response to the Royal Commission’s terms of reference will be provided at a later stage.