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Fair Access to Justice? Support for Vulnerable Defendants in the Criminal Courts

NCJ Number
Jenny Talbot
Date Published
June 2012
24 pages
With a focus on Great Britain, this paper presents data and policy assessments pertinent to legal services ("intermediaries") for financially and mentally disadvantaged ("vulnerable") defendants and witnesses, which the author considers essential for every defendant's "fair access to justice."
Large numbers of defendants have various support needs that, if left unmet, can weaken their ability to participate effectively in court proceedings, which compromises their right to a fair trial as protected by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In Great Britain, current arrangements for special measures that ensure appropriate assistance for vulnerable defendants and witnesses are inequitable. By statute, vulnerable witnesses are able to access support, such as an intermediary; whereas, vulnerable defendants do not have statutory protection, thus relying on the discretion of the court and the common law. Although intermediaries appointed to support vulnerable witnesses are registered and subject to a stringent selection, training, and accreditation process, intermediaries for defendants are neither registered nor regulated. Intermediaries should be introduced into the statutory provisions of special measures for vulnerable defendants. These special measures, together with other reasonable adjustments, should be made available according to personal need, so as to improve the capacity of the vulnerable defendant to participate effectively in court proceedings, assist in their preparation for the trial process, and help ensure fitness to plead. 21 notes