Our concerns about people with Down’s syndrome accessing the justice system

A number of families have contacted the DSA to highlight situations involving the justice system whereby their family member with Down’s syndrome has been called upon to provide evidence.

Everyone with Down’s syndrome who comes into contact with the justice system should be considered a Vulnerable Witness. There are clear procedures that must be followed if someone is a Vulnerable Witness; the procedures are referred to as Special Measures. The guidance published by the Ministry of Justice is “Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures”.

We are concerned that a common experience among these families is that of the person with Down’s syndrome not being considered a reliable witness. We would like to emphasise that each case should be treated individually and on its own merits avoiding any preconceived assumptions about people with Down’s syndrome and their capacity as witnesses.

We will monitor the situation and provide support and information to families who contact us for advice. We continue to strive for equality of access to all areas of society for people with Down’s syndrome.