HC Deb 16 March 2000 vol 346 cc502-3
31. Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

What steps he is taking to make the operation of the Crown Prosecution Service more accessible to people with hearing impairments. [113403]

The Solicitor-General

The CPS is committed to equality of access to justice, and that includes equality in its day-to-day dealings with others in the criminal justice system, including defendants, victims and witnesses. Together with others from other criminal justice agencies, the CPS works closely with representatives of associations involved with deaf people or those who are hard of hearing to ensure that their needs are addressed. The CPS is aware of its responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and is a user of the Employment Service's "Positive About Disabled People" symbol. It has a programme of action on disability and has a network of equal opportunities officers.

Mr. Levitt

I greatly welcome that reply. I speak as someone who, some five years ago, wrote a book on how deaf people can better access public services. When I heard that the CPS was interested, I sent it a copy, so it has the book to help it.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there are essentially four ways in which deaf people can be helped to have better access to those services—text telephones, sound enhancement, sign language where appropriate and, above all, through the general awareness of front-line staff of the communication needs of people with hearing impairments? Which measures does he contemplate using in the CPS to enhance that access to services?

The Solicitor-General

I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his book "Sound Practice", which has been used widely in Government agencies, including the CPS.

The CPS subscribes to TypeTalk, which provides a link between hearing or speech-impaired telephone users and hearing persons. My hon. Friend mentioned awareness, and training is one aspect of that. The CPS official responsible for interpreter issues is at present undergoing training in British sign language, stage 2. In addition, training on the victims pilots, about which I have spoken in the past, includes disability awareness training. That training includes awareness of the problems faced by the deaf and hard of hearing.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

How can the CPS facilities be made more available to people with hearing impairment? Local CPS offices are being closed, and their facilities moved further away from people. The same is happening with magistrates courts and their administrative offices. Is that the way to make the operations of the CPS more accessible to people with disabilities, especially those with hearing impairment?

The Solicitor-General

I am surprised by those comments. To my knowledge, no CPS offices have been closed. The CPS is getting out into the community, through the criminal justice units, and CPS officials now attend regularly at police stations.

We accept that deaf and hard of hearing people face problems. For example, the design of courts can render lip-reading difficult. We must be much more aware of the problems faced by defendants, victims and witnesses, but there is no substance to the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question.

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