Court services ‘too difficult’ for people with disability

A WODONGA disability advocacy group has called for more funding to help its clients better navigate the justice system.

That follows yesterday’s release of a report that found people with disabilities face significant and complex barriers when reporting crime to police.

A forum held by the Disability Advocacy and Information Service (DAIS) in Albury last October contributed to the report.

Beyond Doubt — the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime was prepared by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

Commissioner Kate Jenkins called for urgent work to be done to ensure that people with disabilities have equitable access to justice and safety.

Sixteen recommendations are listed in the report, including five for Victoria Police to better respond to the needs of people with disabilities.

Senior advocate Michelle Critchley said DAIS helped its clients speak to the police and attend court through its Justice Support program.

“The evidence from this report highlights the need for people with disability to be supported through the justice system,” she said.

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Ms Critchley said DAIS had the resources to provide this support, but said that funding from the Law Services Board of Victoria would cease at the end of this year.

“We believe the government needs to commit to refunding the Justice Support Program to ensure continued support for people with disability to navigate through the justice system,” she said.

DAIS has witnessed a continuing growth in demand for court support, with the program extended to other courts in the region.

The report says the majority of police aim to deliver “the best possible service” and that its leadership is “keenly committed to human rights and non-discriminatory practices”.

“However, on the ground, performance is mixed,” it says.

Ms Critchley said there were regular instances where clients reported they were not believed by the police when they reported a crime, “and it is not until they are supported to go to the police that they are listened to”.

Ms Critchley said DAIS has had instances where people with a disability faced “significant and complex barriers”.

“We have found when we support these people to go to the police to have their voice heard, the issue is then usually taken seriously,” she said.

Ms Critchley said DAIS has a good relationship with police and wanted to boost it.

“Police will benefit from training in disability that would improve communication at the police station,” she said.

In response to Beyond Doubt’s findings, Victoria Police said it had already begun to incorporate the recommendations into its planning.

A spokesman said police are committed to providing members with support and the skills they require to respond to the needs of people with disabilities.

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