Breaking barriers to justice
It is a fundamental tenet of the legal system that access to justice should be open to all, regardless of gender, social status, ethnic origin or any of the factors that create our diverse society.
Organisations such as the Legal Action Group campaign to ensure that no-one is barred from a fair and just outcome to legal disputes, whether in criminal cases or in day-to-day affairs such as tenant and landlord disagreements.
Firms hoping to ensure they are able to adequately represent clients from any background and with any need may well have overlooked the needs of those with learning disabilities. A recent article in the Guardian law blog drew attention to the need for firms to ensure that people with learning disabilities – and their families and carers – feel able to approach them for legal advice.
A report by the Norah Fry Research Centre and Bristol University found that those with learning disabilities are more likely to rely on social networks and acquaintances when seeking legal help. The prospect of approaching a firm direct can be an intimidating prospect for anyone - add the vulnerabilities of a learning disability and it is scarcely surprising that many will never access the professional legal help they need. And with an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK diagnosed with a learning disability, there are real concerns that a significant proportion of the population is under-represented in the legal system.
The report, which had full backing of the Legal Services Board, found a “need for training and awareness among legal professionals generally about the needs of people with learning disabilities when they are seeking advice and representation.” It also noted that some firms have excelled at making their services broadly accessible – but, as the Guardian piece points out, recent changes in the legal landscape are unlikely to make the position of people with disabilities in the legal system any better: they are “more likely to need legal services but generally less able to access services without legal aid support.”
The Law Society is expected to publish guidance this year directed at helping law firms equip themselves to assist people with a range of vulnerabilities – including learning disabilities.
Firms keen to ensure their services are available to all – from those with learning disabilities to those experiencing language barriers or visual impairment – should look to their professional litigation support partners for advice. At Legastat, we can advise on practical measures to ensure access to justice is available for all, from ensuring documents are available in a range of formats to using tech innovations such as text-to-speech software. Together, we can ensure the legal system truly meets the needs of those who need it most.
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