Introduction to the special issue

Creating equitable access to justice for people with disabilities  as victims of crime: Ireland’s criminal justice system and the challenge of disability rights.

Claire Edwards, Shane Kilcommins and Gill Harold

Recent years have witnessed an increasing focus on the differential experience of crime and the ways in which the criminal justice system responds to different groups of victims. International developments in hate crime law for example, are increasingly recognising gender and ‘race’ as grounds on which crimes are perpetrated, whilst criminal justice systems in common law countries are putting in place measures to support specific groups of ‘vulnerable witnesses’, including children. People with disabilities are arguably one group who have remained largely invisible within the justice system as victims of crime in Ireland, and yet in countries such as Scotland, England, Australia and the US, their experiences are increasingly coming to the fore and being legislated for (in terms of protection from particular types of crime, but also in supporting them in their encounters with the justice system).

The articles in this special issue are the result of a conference held in University College Cork in May 2012 on the issue of creating equitable access to justice for people with disabilities as victims of crime in Ireland. The conference was the product of a piece of research conducted for the National Disability Authority by the School of Applied Social Studies and Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, Faculty of Law, UCC, that sought to examine the barriers that people with disabilities face in accessing justice when they find themselves as victims of crime in Ireland, and consider different international policies and practices which have been put in place to support disabled people in their encounters with the justice system. The aim of the conference was both to report back on the findings of the research, but also to bring together representatives from key agencies in the criminal justice system, disability organisations, and victim support organisations to explore current practices in Ireland and consider ways of improving equitable access to justice for people with disabilities. In terms of the latter, bringing both national and international perspectives to the conference was crucial, and we were lucky to have representation from disability and social care agencies from England and Scotland as well as Ireland.

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