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Criminal Justice System

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

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What plans his Department has to ensure equal treatment for people with communication or learning difficulties under the criminal justice system. [15786]

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, on 13 June we announced an urgent, wide-ranging examination of the way in which vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, including those with communication or learning difficulties, are treated by the criminal justice system, with the aim of assisting them to give their best evidence in court.

There is existing protection for suspects in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the accompanying codes of practice which provide safeguards for people in police detention, including suspects who may be considered vulnerable and in need of additional protection.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is she aware of the campaign being run by Community Caremagazine to highlight the failings in the criminal justice system in respect of disabled people? Will she ensure that the interdepartmental working group that is looking into these matters takes a close look at the guidance and training that are available for judges and others involved in the criminal justice system to ensure that ignorance does not represent a barrier to people with learning and communication difficulties obtaining their right to justice?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The interdepartmental working group is aware of the campaign to which the hon. Gentleman referred and will look into the issues that he raised.

This is a very important point. All levels of the criminal justice system should be brought into the review. I would welcome an early end to the review so that people from all levels can get the justice and respect that they deserve but on occasions are missing.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I have come across examples in my constituency which very much reinforce that point of view. The group is aiming to report to us by the end of the year. We certainly intend wherever possible to improve the situation.