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Disabled denied justice

Briefs

Cite as: September 2014 88 (09) LIJ, p.15

Harassment, stalking, burglary, physical violence, sexual assault, financial abuse, family violence and hate crime are commonly experienced by people with disabilities, yet their ability to seek redress through the justice system is limited with a successful prosecution the exception rather than the rule.

A new report from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), Beyond Doubt: The experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime, says Victoria’s criminal justice system is ill-equipped to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

Launched in July by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, the report found that police services are not delivered equally for everybody. As a result the majority of crimes against people with disabilities go unreported. Victims fear they will not be believed or will be seen as lacking credibility.

The report found people with disabilities, particularly women, may be more likely to experience violent and sexual crime than other people. Yet they face negative assumptions and attitudes, a lack of support and minimal provision of necessary adjustments.

One case study in the report tells of a blind, quadriplegic woman who was pulled from her wheelchair and threatened. She then encountered difficulties in convincing police a crime had occurred.

But people with disabilities faced barriers throughout the justice system, including the law and courts, leading to routine denial of the basic human right of access to justice.

Beyond Doubt (http://tinyurl.com/pk6yfoy) makes 16 recommendations, including examining options for amending the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) to provide for special hearings and other law reform options, amending the Uniform Evidence Manual to clarify the definition of a vulnerable witness and developing education resources and disability accessibility.

“Access to justice for people with disabilities should not be a matter of luck. It is a basic right for everyone,” VEOHRC Commissioner Kate Jenkins said.

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