This report has identified a range of problems that exist in the criminal justice system which result in people with disabilities not enjoying equality before the law. Despite much good work and the best intentions, people with disabilities are not treated appropriately in the criminal justice system.
Throughout the consultation process the Commission heard that in order to ensure equality before the law for people with disabilities, sectors must work together effectively. To facilitate this collaborative process, it became clear that each jurisdiction should develop an overarching Disability Justice Strategy. The strategy should entail:
- Safety of people with disabilities and freedom from violence
- Effective access to justice for people with disabilities
- Respect for inherent dignity and individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own decisions
- Full and effective participation and inclusion in the community
These outcomes reflect an approach that views people with disabilities as rights-holders, who are afforded dignity and are seen as experts in the solutions that are most likely to be successful. Such an approach is fundamental to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to the National Disability Strategy.
The report includes a set of actions that governments can adopt and incorporate into their Disability Justice Strategy. In partnership with people with disabilities, each jurisdiction can move towards the achievement of the outcomes.
Not only is there a human rights imperative to develop a Disability Justice Strategy, but research incorporated into the report indicates that there is also a strong economic imperative. Significant savings can be made through the provision of early intervention and diversion options from the criminal justice system.
Many services and programs which provide better access to justice for people with disabilities were brought to our attention. While it was beyond the scope of this report to assess these, each is attempting to overcome the barriers to equality before the law experienced by people with disabilities. The services and programs are listed in Appendix A.
Equality before the law for Australians with disabilities will not be easily achieved. The Commission encourages governments around Australia to consult each other, learn from experience, and coordinate, inform and monitor the criminal justice system. Through these processes, barriers to equality before the law will be removed faster and gaps bridged sooner. This report recognises the benefits that such equality will bring, both to people with disabilities and the broader community. It is a goal worth striving for.