Law reform makes justice system fairer for people with disability
The Statutes Amendment (Vulnerable Witnesses) Act commences today to better support people with disability in the criminal justice system.
The new laws are a major reform and will help ensure children and people living with disability who have complex communication needs are well supported when they give evidence – both inside and outside the courtroom.
A new Communication Partner Service, run by Uniting Communities, has opened its doors to coincide with the commencement of the new Act.
The Communication Partner Service is providing trained, independent volunteers who will assist people with complex communication needs to give evidence both in police interviews and in court.
The role is similar to that of a language interpreter, and is available to victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants.
A key element in the state's Disability Justice Plan, the service is strongly complemented by the specialist training being provided to investigative interviewers by Deakin University.
The Disability Justice Plan provides a comprehensive suite of measures to support the new Act and improve access to justice for people with disability.
Following a competitive grant process, the State Government entered into a partnership with Uniting Communities to provide the Communication Partner Service in March 2016.
The specialist training for investigative interviewers being provided by Deakin University was launched in February 2016.
Deakin University are also undertaking ground-breaking research in South Australia to further refine interviewing techniques for people with limited expressive ability.
Find out more about the Disability Justice Plan at http://www.agd.sa.gov.au/initiatives/disability-justice-plan.
Attorney-General John Rau said:
These new laws have put South Australia at the forefront of efforts to make the criminal justice system fairer and more equitable for people with disability.
The new Act and broader Disability Justice Plan have been developed in close consultation with people with disability and the legal profession over a number of years.
The result is that people with disability will have their voice heard and will be able to give evidence where previously this might not have been possible, whether as victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants.
The changes are far reaching and have benefited from strong bi-partisan support.