HC Deb 23 April 2001 vol 367 c157W
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what specific assistance is available within the legal system to adults with learning difficulties.[158079]

Jane Kennedy

Court Service staff have been given training on helping people with learning difficulties. This includes explaining terminology and jargon in simpler terms; and advising the judge of any known effect the learning difficulty may have on a hearing. The Court Service also operates a free helpline providing advice on how disabled customers can be helped to use the courts.

Training seminars for judges include dedicated sessions and case studies on disability issues, of which learning disabilities form a part. A new section of the Equal Treatment Bench Book for judges, entitled "Disability", was published in January 2001. This section includes material on learning disabilities and a chapter on the provisions of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 relating to witnesses with learning disabilities.

These measures in this Act include new powers to clear the court when the witness is giving evidence. The timetable for implementation in the Crown court and the magistrates courts is under consideration.

The criminal law recognises that those with severe mental impairment require protection from sexual offences. The report of the Review of Sexual Offences makes several recommendations to Government for changes in the law to improve this protection. Responses to public consultation on this report are now being analysed.

The Police and Criminal Act 1984, and Code of Practice C made under that Act, also provide specific protections for adults with learning difficulties who may be suspected of committing a criminal offence. The interests of justice test for determining applications for criminal legal aid takes account of the inability of the defendant to understand proceedings.

The Official Solicitor provides assistance in litigation for an adult with such severe learning disabilities as to be unable to manage his or her property and affairs and there is no other person suitable or able to do so.