“Show me a justice system that’s open, transparent, accessible and inclusive”: Barriers to Access in the Criminal Justice System for People with Disabilities as Victims of Crime

Claire Edwards, Gill Harold and Shane Kilcommins

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This paper considers the barriers that people with disabilities in Ireland face in accessing justice through the criminal justice system when they are victims of crime. It draws on qualitative research with key actors working within the agencies of the Irish criminal justice system, along with disability organisations, victim support organisations and health and social care providers. The research identifies a number of barriers which can be differentiated in terms of those operating at a strategic policy level, and those happening ‘on the ground’ when disabled people encounter the justice system in reporting a crime or going to court as a witness. The research found a lack of recognition of people with disabilities as victims of crime amongst many agencies of the justice system, an absence which is compounded by a failure to collate data on disabled people as victims of crime. On the ground, inconsistent practices regarding how gardaí, barristers and the judiciary respond to people with disabilities act as a major barrier, as do limits to the accessibility of spaces of justice such as courthouses and garda stations. The paper suggests that greater responsiveness from the justice system will need to reflect an understanding of disability which acknowledges the structural, institutional and attitudinal barriers which turn biological impairment into a disabling experience.

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