Date lodged: 27 February 2018
To ask the Scottish Government what support it offers people to with learning disabilities in accessing the justice system.
Answered by: Michael Matheson 12 March 2018
The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring a fair and effective justice system that is accessible to all. We recognise that people with learning disabilities may require additional support to enable them to secure that access.
There are a number of specific measures in place to support vulnerable people, including people with learning disabilities, to access the justice system.
This includes the provision of Appropriate Adults who facilitate communication between the police and vulnerable adult victims, witnesses and suspects - including those with communication difficulties arising from a learning disability. We are currently working with stakeholders to develop a model for delivery of these services across Scotland on a statutory footing.
The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 requires the main justice agencies to have regard to certain principles when carrying out any statutory functions. These principles include ensuring that victims and witnesses have access to appropriate support and, so far as is appropriate, they are able to participate in investigations and proceedings. Provisions in the Act also require that relevant authorities take appropriate measures to ensure that victims can understand the information given to them and be understood.
We recognise that some witnesses may find it difficult to give evidence in court. They may be particularly vulnerable because of their circumstances, for example, due to a learning disability, or the nature of their evidence. Where it is considered that someone may be vulnerable, an application can be made to the court for special measures to help them give the best evidence they can. This can include giving evidence from outwith the court room via a live TV link or having a supporter sit with them while giving evidence.
People with disabilities, including learning disabilities, are statistically more likely to experience civil justice problems. The Scottish Government has maintained wide access to publicly-funded legal assistance through Legal Aid for both criminal and civil justice matters.
In addition to the above measures, the Scottish Government currently provides grant funding for the Supporting Offenders with Learning Disabilities Network (SOLD). SOLD’s primary aim is to reduce offending and improve support. There are over 330 members of the SOLD Network from a broad range of sectors including: voluntary sector providers, Police Scotland, NHS, Social Work, academic institution, Scottish Courts, Scottish Government and procurator fiscals office. SOLD is led by a partnership between People First Scotland and the Association for Real Change (ARC) Scotland.