Image of Geoffrey for Justice Matter
Geoffrey, JAS participant.

JAS, a critically important program for people with cognitive disability

05 May 2021

Remembering when to turn up in court can be a challenge if you have a cognitive disability.

But arriving late may see you behind bars.

Time management, not attending court due to factors like memory difficulties, not knowing how to get to court and not being able to cope with the chaos and confusion of the court environment are all significant challenges for people with cognitive disability.

Legal aid lawyers will often not realise a person has a cognitive disability. They won’t know the implications of communicating with the person. They won’t know that the person does not understand what is happening and how to respond. They won’t recognise the opportunities for diversion orders.

People with cognitive disability have a right to a support person in police stations. If the NSW Government does not renew funding for the Justice Advocacy Service (JAS) there will be no trained support persons for people with disability in the courts and the police stations. Police will obtain unfair and unreliable evidence leading to wrongful convictions and victims with disability will not receive justice.

If the Premier and Attorney General do not commit to ongoing funding for JAS, then the next 12 months will be very grim for people with cognitive disability caught up in the justice system.

It will mean 1,200 police interviews and 6,900 court appearances in the coming year without a trained support person to assist the person with cognitive disability.

There will be additional disadvantage for Indigenous Australians with disability. 30% of the clients of JAS are Indigenous Australians.

If Justice Matters then Premier Berejiklian and Attorney General Mark Speakman need to end this funding uncertainty now.

“I don’t know how people that have experienced what I’ve experienced will deal with that, taking those supports away at this time.” Geoffrey Thomas JAS participant.

We need to know now that the June 2021 budget will include:

  1. Continued funding for the Justice Advocacy Service which provides vital support for victims of crime, witnesses and alleged offenders with disability in their interactions with police and the criminal courts.
  2. Funding for a statewide diversion program supporting alleged offenders with disability out of the criminal justice system and into support from the NDIS and other human services.

For 17 years, the NSW Government has funded the Intellectual Disability Rights Service to provide people with intellectual disability with police and court support. For the last two years, this has been available through the JAS to people with cognitive disability.

The need for these services now and into the future could not be more stark.

Without the support and help of IDRS (Intellectual Disability Rights Service) Geoffrey says he would most likely be in a psychiatric unit, in jail or homeless. Instead he is working and has recently published his poetry.

Premier and Attorney General, please make funding of these services your priority. People with cognitive disability need your support.

This article has focused on the JAS. Our next article will focus on the need to go a further step and fund a statewide court diversion program.

Update: The Department of Communities and Justice has just announced he it will extend funding for JAS to September 30. This is good news but it does not save JAS. We need long-term funding for JAS and a state-wide diversion programme confirmed in the June 2021 budget.

Watch Geoffrey’s video here:

Find out more about our campaign Justice Matters here.

Jim Simpson
Senior Advocate

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