Do disabled people experience discrimination in the criminal justice system? Inquiry launch

Published: 01 Mar 2019

A legal inquiry into whether people with mental health conditions, cognitive impairments and neuro-diverse conditions including autism and ADHD are experiencing discrimination and being put at risk of miscarriages of justice due to a lack of support in the criminal justice system has been launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The inquiry responds to significant concerns from charities, lawyers and defendants’ families that disabled people are being put at a disadvantage because adjustments are not being made to meet their specific needs. It also follows our recent report on the state of equality in Britain, which found that disabled people have low levels of trust in the criminal justice system. 

The inquiry will focus on defendants’ experiences after they are charged and before they reach a trial. This is when critical decisions are made, including what their plea will be, whether they are to be granted bail or kept on remand and whether special measures for trial are made.

It will explore whether defendants’ needs are properly identified and whether adjustments are put in place to ensure they understand what they are charged with and the process they are going through, and can participate effectively and as fully as possible in the process.

Relevant adjustments may include using intermediaries, allowing extra time and regular breaks, or providing information using visual aids.

The inquiry will also examine how steps to modernise the court system such as the use of video-link hearings in England and Wales, are affecting defendants’ ability to participate in legal proceedings.

David Isaac, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Chair, said: 

"The criminal justice system is complex, and people with impairments such as autism and mental health conditions can find it especially difficult to navigate their way through the system. It is essential that criminal justice works fairly for everyone and that anyone accused of a crime is not disadvantaged by virtue of having an impairment. Technology can often assist and empower disabled people, but we must also ensure it is used appropriately and doesn’t inadvertently end up isolating disabled people or jeopardising their ability to participate in person.

"If disabled people’s needs aren’t properly identified from the outset they are at risk of not understanding the charges they face, the advice they receive or the legal process. In some cases, this can mean disabled people could be wrongly convicted or receive inappropriate sentences."

We will collect evidence from defendants and experts in this area, as well as court staff, legal representatives, judges and other criminal justice professionals across England, Wales and Scotland.

Find out more about the inquiry and see the full terms of reference.

The inquiry will conclude by the end of 2019.

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102