Disability advocates unhappy with plan to use volunteers in courts; experts give 'consistency'

Disability advocates unhappy with plan to use volunteers in courts; experts give 'consistency'

By Alexia Attwood http://www.abc.net.au/news/6747148 Posted 15 Dec 2015, 4:10pmTue 15 Dec 2015, 4:10pm http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-15/adelaide-magistrates-court.jpg/7030790

 Photo: Kelly Vincent is advocating to make courts more accessible for people with disabilities. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-15/adelaide-magistrates-court.jpg/7030790 Related Story: Demerit point plan to free up disability parking in SA http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-05/demerit-point-plan-to-free-up-disability-parking-in-sa/7004296

Disability advocates have rejected the South Australian Government's proposal to have volunteers help people with disabilities through the courts, rather than paid professionals. Dignity for Disability MP Kelly Vincent has raised concerns about the new scheme, saying tertiary educated staff should be employed to assist people with complex communication needs in court and in police interviews.

The Communication Partner proposal forms part of the Disability Justice Plan, which is a three-year roadmap that sets out ways to make the state's criminal justice system more responsive to the needs of people with disabilities.

"There have certainly been concerns raised with Dignity for Disability about the fact that relying on volunteers could result in inconsistency of the information relayed," Ms Vincent said. "Particularly because volunteers, quite rightly, aren't necessarily available all the time because they're volunteering their spare time."

Ms Vincent pointed to programs in the United Kingdom which employ speech pathologists to help people with disabilities with interpreting language in court.

"I think that could result in more consistency of the information and actually result in the feeling of trust and confidence in people using the service," Ms Vincent said.

South Australia's Attorney-General John Rau said the scheme was proposed as a volunteer based service after considering similar interstate and overseas models.

"Volunteers with the appropriate training and experience can perform the task of a Communication Assistance as evidenced by the Independent Third Persons (ITP) scheme managed by the Office of the Public Advocate in Victoria," Mr Rau said.

He said the Victorian model attracted positive feedback.

Ms Vincent said it was important that South Australia sets the right example as the rest of the country searches for a national approach to reforming justice systems.

"[Right now] many other states across Australia are looking to South Australia as a leader in the area of providing access to the justice system for people with disabilities," she said.