Weekly Poll – Access to Justice (Week Beginning 6 June 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 6 June 2022, we asked a question about access to justice.

Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.

Results

Question. Have you ever faced challenges accessing legal services or the justice system?

  • Yes 53% (29 respondents)
  • No 47% (26 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Communication Support

One of the most common barriers to accessing legal services was the availability of inclusive and accessible communication support.  This includes BSL interpreters or electronic notetakers in place so that disabled people can understand and communicate effectively.  Without communication support in place, disabled people felt their views and experiences were not taken seriously.

“Getting notetaker support for appointments to fully understand the situation, issues and implications, therefore not making fully informed decisions.  I have friends unable to get good support with BSL interpreters for making appointments and translations of documents.”

“I am deaf and deaf people have no access to justice because solicitors and law centres won’t respond to emails and say they are only doing telephone and video hearings. I cannot participate in telephone hearings.”

“Access to good quality information, support and advocacy.”

“I have never been given the support to give a statement to the police. The police insisted on a video recording. I’m non-verbal. I couldn’t do it. Not one piece of information was given to me in a format I understand. The appropriate adult did not understand my needs and did nothing to explain in a way I understood. The entire experience made me feel like my issue wasn’t taken seriously or it was just too much trouble to investigate because it was difficult.”

Recently Disability Equality Scotland polled its members on the Scottish Government proposals to embed inclusive communication across the public sector in Scotland.  Disabled people reflected on the importance of receiving information and communication support in a format that matches their strengths and preferences.  There was recognition of the need for public bodies to be provided with clear a definitions, standards and guidance on how to help meet a new duty on inclusive communication.  At Disability Equality Scotland we host the Inclusive Communication Hub (www.inclusivecommunication.scot) a website that can be utilised by public bodies to raise awareness of relevant information and best practice guidance.  We also provide an Easy Read translation service and deliver an Easy Read training course, both of which can assist public bodies with meeting the requirements of the new duty on inclusive communication.

Physical Accessibility

As well as issues with accessing inclusive communication support, some disabled people were physically unable to access legal services because the location of their solicitors’ offices were inaccessible.  In one instance, a disabled person was charged a fee for a home visit because the legal offices were not accessible.

“I had to go to a solicitor whose office was on the second floor of a block. No lift.”

“Inappropriate access and egress from offices plus lack of wheelchair space when inside the building.”

“I had problems being able to access my solicitor after my disability meant that I needed to use a wheelchair as their office was up very steep staircase. They also visited me at home however they charged me for their visit which worked out at almost £70 and the office is less than 10mins away from my home.”

Legal Aid/Cost

Disabled people reported the costs of legal advice and support was prohibitive and meant that many disabled people were unable to afford legal services.

“I get PIP but no other benefits, so I do not qualify for any advice or support. Without another qualifying benefit, I am stuck in a legal no man’s land and cannot afford legal fees or any kind.”

“Citizens Advice can only offer so much support then refer for legal support which could prove extremely expensive wiping out any savings! Quite simply, unless a disabled person has a massive income, massive savings and money to throw away at private solicitors, we have NO Legal or Human Rights, NO voice, NO support!”

“The cost is prohibitive. I can get legal advice through the union, but what about disabled workers in non-unionised workplaces?”

One respondent reported their experience of legal services charging them for the cost of accessing BSL interpreters.  This was perceived as a necessary reasonable adjustment that should be made available to disabled clients.

“Legal services refusing to pay for BSL/English interpreters. Why should BSL users have to pay extra when they are already paying for legal services?”

And in another example, following a car accident, one respondent felt that the ability to pay for expensive legal advice, helped the alleged perpetrator of the incident to access legal advice which ‘bought them’ out of a criminal sentence.

“The person who caused the accident pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and were only fined £640 and six points on their licence. This person nearly killed my wife and I.  It took the fire brigade 2 ½ hours to cut us out of our car and this is all the person received because they bought themselves out of a much more serious charge. I don’t believe that there is any equity or fairness in the justice system.”

Employment

Some respondents had specific experience with an employment tribunal organisation which they reported had no perceived understanding of disability, of reasonable adjustments or how best to represent the needs of disabled people.

“[The tribunal] which is severely biased and refused repeatedly to provide access to reasonable adjustments and deliberately omitted to give due regard to the Equal Treatment Bench Book. I suffer with a major anxiety disorder and currently the tribunal is threatening to strike my case out because of my disability.”

“[The tribunal] has no understanding of disability and no wish to help support those who are struggling with mental health disability. The treatment that I received since May 2019 to date verges on torture and is a breach of article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998.”

There was a suggestion that more places across Scotland could benefit from the services of a law centre, similar to the one available in Govan in Glasgow which offers independent and free legal advice.  www.govanlawcentre.org

Conclusion

Disabled people did face challenges accessing legal services.  Experience has shown that there is not equal access to information or reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people access to information in a format that suits their needs.  This could include access to BSL interpreters or easy read formats that allow disabled people to understand legal language and jargon.  In some cases there were also issues with physically accessing the legal offices of solicitors, who then charged disabled people ‘call out’ fees to meet with them in their own homes.

Those who had experience of employment tribunals reported a poor understanding of disability awareness and reasonable adjustments.  Disability Equality Scotland has a training course called Disability Equality Access and Learning (DEAL) which can help raise awareness and understanding of disability.  For more information on DEAL see our website www.disabilityequality.scot