Under the Autism Strategy, the Scottish Government has committed funding to support work with the Supporting Offenders with Learning Disabilities (SOLD) Network, the National Autistic Society (NAS) and relevant partners to set out priorities and required actions to ensure autism is understood across the justice system.
There are already a number of specific measures in place to support vulnerable people, including people with autism, to access the criminal justice system.
The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 requires the main justice agencies to ensure that victims and witnesses have access to appropriate support and are able to participate in investigations and proceedings (so far as is appropriate). The Act also requires that relevant authorities take appropriate measures to ensure that victims can understand the information given to them and be understood.
All police officers receive regular training, an element of which is designed to raise awareness of autism. Through the Autism Strategy, Police Scotland is working with justice partners and third sector organisations to develop further training materials and consider measures such as autism alert cards.
At the investigative stage, Appropriate Adults facilitate communication between the police and vulnerable adult victims, witnesses and suspects. We published a consultation on Tuesday 3 April ( https://consult.gov.scot/criminal-justice/appropriate-adult-service/ ) to seek stakeholder’s views on plans to place existing, non-statutory, Appropriate Adult services on a statutory footing. A statutory service will help to ensure vulnerable people who come into contact with the justice system receive the same level of high quality support across Scotland. The consultation is open until Tuesday 26 June and I would urge anyone with an interest to have their say.
Legal aid can also help suspects with communication and other support needs by allowing for additional payments to cover the reasonable costs of communication support.
In court, where it is considered that someone may be vulnerable, an application can be made to the court for special measures to help them give the best evidence they can. This includes vulnerable accused giving evidence. Special measures include giving evidence remotely via a live TV link or having a supporter present.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service also has a range of information and guidance available to staff to support them to communicate with victims, witnesses and accused persons with autism.
With regard to jurors, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS), recently published Lord Matthews’ report on Enabling Jury Service: www.scotcourts.gov.uk/about-the-scottish-court-service/reports-data/enabling-jury-service/ , the current focus being on enabling jurors with physical, hearing and visual impairments. The report also recognises the need to scope what support and reasonable adjustments might be appropriate to support persons with learning disabilities and mental health conditions. In addition, if any potential juror has autism that is likely to make it difficult to function as a juror, he or she may apply to the clerk of court for excusal.