Thursday, 26 April 2012

Silence in court?

By Dave Mahon, Youth Justice Programme Manager
Dave Mahon

A few weeks ago we met Jason (not his real name) who had appeared in court recently. He had an acquired hearing impairment as a result of a virus. Put simply, he needed a hearing loop to enable him to participate in the court proceedings. Although it was requested ahead of time, on the day of proceedings the loop was broken and a replacement couldn’t be found. Jason was offered an adjournment , but after many months he didn’t want to wait any longer. If it meant a custodial sentence then so be it.

So the proceedings went ahead and passed Jason by in a blur. When sentenced, he walked to the wrong exit, assuming he was to be taken into custody. However, the judge had handed him a community sentence. Disoriented, he left via the front door where his sister explained what had happened. Who knows what else Jason may have missed or misinterpreted which potentially could have had serious implications?

Other young people we interviewed appeared similarly disconnected from the process. Some struggled with the language that was used. For example, one lad didn’t understand the word ‘remorse’. Others made a connection with the process, but only because they’d seen it happen ‘in films’ not because anyone had explained it to them.

A fair trial, regardless of the outcome of the case, means being able to interact and understand all procedures, whether you have a disability or not. That’s why we’re calling for urgent changes in the law so that defendants with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have the same rights as witnesses to an intermediary, who can support them to communicate with a police officer or judge.

This week The Communication Trust launches Sentence Trouble, a film produced to improve the skills and confidence of youth offending teams, lawyers, secure estate staff, magistrates and the police so they are able to recognise SLCN and reflect on their own communication skills.
To watch the Sentence trouble film click here

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