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Witnesses: Disabled

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what steps he plans to take to ensure that witness statements from disabled adults who communicate using non-formal methods can be accepted in courts. (261505)

In the criminal courts statements from disabled adults who use non-formal methods of communication are treated in the same way as statements from a witness whose first language is not English.

When taking a statement from a witness who requires assistance with communication, the police interview is conducted with necessary assistance, such as an accredited deaf signer, an intermediary, or communication aids or relay interpreters where more than one form of communication is required. The statement is written by the police officer following the witness interview and then communicated back to the witness, with any necessary assistance to check its accuracy before the witness is invited to sign it.

So far as the admissibility of the statement is concerned, this is a matter for the court to determine in each case. Written statements are admissible in certain circumstances but normally a witness would give evidence orally in court, again with any necessary assistance with communication.

In the civil courts there are no plans to change the current arrangements in respect of witness statements. Each court has a customer service officer who is able to assist users by providing services such as hearing loops, sign language or lip speakers. When required, arrangements may be made to give evidence outside the court room, for example in a hospital. The judge, parties and court staff adopt a flexible approach to allow each case to be dealt with individually according to the circumstances of the person concerned and to accommodate any special needs.