Equitable Access to Justice

This new courtroom has timber backed seats and a long timber desk that seats the justices. A abstract painting covers the wall behind the bench. Daylight comes in through large windows.Justice systems and courthouses are scary at the best of times – even when you haven’t done anything wrong. The processes and places are foreign to most of us. Interacting with the justice system is very stressful – even more so for people with any kind of disability. It’s the same for people who come from a migrant community. 

The newly published guidelines for access to justice for persons with disabilities is available on the United Nations Human Rights web page. It gives the background and a summary of the consultation process. The title of the document is, International Principles and Guidelines on Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities. The document was developed in collaboration with disability rights experts, advocacy organisations, states, academics and other practitioners. 

There are ten principles, each with a set of guidelines for action:

Principle 1  All persons with disabilities have legal capacity and, therefore, no one shall be denied access to justice on the basis of disability.

Principle 2  Facilities and services must be universally accessible to ensure equal access to justice without discrimination of persons with disabilities.

Principle 3  Persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, have the right to appropriate procedural accommodations.

Principle 4  Persons with disabilities have the right to access legal notices and information in a timely and accessible manner on an equal basis with others.

Principle 5  Persons with disabilities are entitled to all substantive and procedural safeguards recognized in international law on an equal basis with others, and States must provide the necessary accommodations to guarantee due process.

Principle 6  Persons with disabilities have the right to free or affordable legal assistance. 

Principle 7 Persons with disabilities have the right to participate in the administration of justice on an equal basis with others. 

Principle 8  Persons with disabilities have the rights to report complaints and initiate legal proceedings concerning human rights violations and crimes, have their complaints investigated and be afforded effective remedies. 

Principle 9  Effective and robust monitoring mechanisms play a critical role in supporting access to justice for persons with disabilities. 

Principle 10  All those working in the justice system must be provided with awareness-raising and training programmes addressing the rights of persons with disabilities, in particular in the context of access to justice.

Brisbane court room showing the glass surround for the defendant dock and a short steep ramp to the doorway.

The picture at the top is from the Brisbane Supreme Court showing a large abstract mural behind the Judges’ bench. The picture at the bottom is an attempt to make the defendant dock wheelchair accessible.