On Friday 14th October 2022 CIJ staff Dorothy Armstrong and Emily Piggott presented at the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) ‘Better Together’ volunteer conference.
One of the important volunteer streams at OPA is the Independent Third Person program (ITP), which has been running for over 30 years. ITPs attend police interviews with people with cognitive disability and mental illness and act as an independent person.
Dorothy and Emily presented to the ITPs on the treatment of people with cognitive disability in the criminal justice system, drawing on recent government reports that demonstrate that people with disability routinely face violence, abuse and neglect in our criminal justice system. In her evidence to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability Dorothy commented that “… I had already been really quite injured by, you know, certain police officers”. Her comments were published in the Royal Commission’s Research Report into Police Responses to People with Disability.
As a lived experience expert Dorothy discussed the importance of integrating the unique perspectives of people with lived experience into policy and especially into the practice of the ITPs. Dorothy and Emily suggested that not only does the role of the ITP need to be expanded and more clearly defined, it must also be legislated to ensure this important protection for people with disability is always available and effectively used.
For some of the ITPs who had themselves had positive experiences when they had sat in police interviews with people with cognitive disability, Dorothy was able to provide another perspective that shocked some audience members. As a woman with lived experience of police brutality, Dorothy was able to voice her perspective, and give the ITPs an idea of what it feels like to be a traumatised and fearful accused person and be interviewed by police. Both Dorothy and Emily found that the responses of audience members to the material presented made starkly apparent the important role people with lived experience play in policy and practice discussions, whilst also demonstrating that listening to people with lived experience can enable powerful and necessary perspective shifts.
Important changes to ITP program and police use of ITPs were recommended in the CIJ’s 2018 Enabling Justice report. Alongside Dorothy Armstrong, lived experience members of the Justice User Group who worked on the Enabling Justice project recommended a range of measures to ensure people with disability have access to the right support, advocacy and safeguarding at the right time in their justice journey. Recommendations in the Enabling Justice report include a review of the ITP program to analyse growing demand, resourcing issues and structure; and that a justice advocacy service be funded by government. As the recommendations made by people who use the justice system have not yet been enacted, the CIJ looks forward to continuing to work with government, the community and especially people with lived experience to continue to have a positive impact on the justice system.
You can read the Enabling Justice report here.
You can find the full report Police Responses to People with Disability here.