PRT briefing paper

prisons

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) has launched a briefing paper entitled Fair Access to Justice?   The topic was addressed at an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting at the House of Commons on June 26.  Present was Lord Bradley, whose review of people with mental health problems and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system, published in April 2009, is a precursor of the PRT briefing paper. His 82 recommendations have been accepted by the previous government and by the Coalition.

The new report lays down a further and clear challenge, that vulnerable defendants should have the same support as vulnerable witnesses. After setting out the stark facts (60% of children who offend have communication difficulties; 32% of adult offenders have an IQ of less than 80), the recommendations include (i) special measures should be equally available to vulnerable defendants; and (ii) the role of the judiciary, court staff and defence lawyers in fulfilling the responsibility of ensuring that this happens should be specified. 

The particular example of the use of intermediaries was highlighted by Jenny Talbot OBE of the Prison Reform Trust, author of the briefing paper and Director of the Care not Custody programme. She cited this as the prime example of where support should be available: all intermediaries, whether for witnesses or defendants, should be registered (with the same requirements of training, quality assurance, professional standards and monitoring procedures). She endorsed the Advocacy Training Council’s recommendation that the questioning of vulnerable people in court in order to achieve best evidence is a specialist skill that requires training.
The next stage in the campaign is for the Prison Reform Trust to meet with ministers, the DPP, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association.

The briefing paper is available on
www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk
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