The Crown Prosecution Service has published an online support guide specifically for disabled victims and witnesses of crime.
The guide which the CPS produced with support from organisations that work with disabled people, can be found on the CPS website – versions will also be available in Easy Read, audio and British Sign Language. It explains the types of support available and how people can access it. It aims to remove some of the barriers disabled people can face as victims and witnesses.
The CPS will work with disabled victims and witnesses to get the right support in place to give their best evidence. This might include an intermediary to help a witness with communication difficulties to better understand court proceedings, a visit to court before giving evidence or even in some cases the opportunity to give evidence by video link from somewhere else.
Although the number of disability hate crimes the CPS prosecutes is increasing, fewer cases are referred to the CPS than for other types of hate crimes, such as those motivated by race or religion. In 2015/16, of 15,442 hate crime cases dealt with by the CPS, 941 were recorded as disability hate crime. The guide is part of the CPS’s effort to increase the number of cases reported.
Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “The numbers of disability hate crimes being reported to the police still do not accurately reflect the levels actually experienced in the community. Through our longstanding engagement with disabled communities and our own practice, we have learned that disabled people face particular barriers when trying to access our services. They have important questions about the type of support that is available and we want people to have the confidence to come forward so together we can identify what is needed.
“This is where the guide comes in. If we explain clearly how we can work with victims and witnesses, we hope that people who are currently not reporting crimes will be more likely to come forward.”
The guide sets out the CPS’s approach to prosecuting crimes against disabled people, including what can be prosecuted as disability hate crimes. It provides a step-by-step guide to the process of reporting a crime and prosecuting a case, including where the criminal justice system can offer support along the way. It also shows what the CPS and its partners can do to ensure disabled people can give their evidence more easily and tells the story of actual cases where the CPS put measures in place to support disabled victims and witnesses.
Alison Saunders added: “Victims of crime do not choose to be involved in the criminal justice system. It can be daunting for anyone if you don’t know what to expect. Everyone’s needs are different, so this guide aims to answer the important questions that we know disabled people will have.
“The CPS has an absolute commitment to reducing hate crime. We will play our part in removing the barriers to justice that disabled people can face. Part of our role in doing this is to take positive steps to provide an equal and fair service to victims of these offences. If making it clear what victims and witnesses can expect from us can help us prosecute more of these crimes, then we will get closer to achieving our ultimate aim. “
Karen Aspley from Nottingham Mencap, who helped the CPS produce the guide said: “We welcome the CPS’s commitment to helping people with learning disabilities to recognise and report hate crime. Nottingham Mencap is happy to have helped in the making of the guide. We hope it will support people with a learning disability or autism to understand that crimes committed against them will be taken seriously and that something will be done.”