Submitted by Voice UK (CA 64)
Voice UK supports people with learning disabilities who have been abused or subject of crime, and their families and carers. We are supported by an All Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Fiona McTaggart. Our president is Lord Laming. We are keen that the inquiry considers the particular experience of children and young people with learning disabilities who have been abused in residential care homes.
CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE
It is our experience that the Crown Prosecution Service is extremely cautious in deciding which cases to prosecute. Particularly when the victim has a learning disability. This is because of the difficulties in enabling a person with learning disabilities to be a "competent witness". Additionally, there is a historical view that that vulnerability is to be equated with unreliability and perhaps more simply, a reluctance to put vulnerable witnesses through yet more trauma.
Many of our families believe that the CPS denies their relatives access to justice for these reasons. We are reassured that this is changing and are pleased to be involved with the CPS at a national level to promote better awareness of the needs of people with a learning disability as witnesses. For example there is now a view within the justice system that the system should work harder to accommodate the witness, rather than the witness be expected to fit the system.
The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 should improve the situation further for vulnerable witnesses, particularly the introduction of special measures.
The imposition of a time limit is felt to be disadvantageous to people with learning disabilities, in particular children. This is because it might take some years before the child is in a position to communicate what has happened to them without fear of retribution. Moreover, the child might not be able to communicate easily and be reliant on someone else "finding out". There are examples of this in the public domain already (the Waterhouse Inquiry and the Longcare Inquiry).
We are fortunate to have among our honorary advisors Professor Hilary Brown and Professor Sheila Hollins, both recognised experts in the field of abuse of people with learning disabilities. Professor Brown states that it takes skill to fabricate and stick to a false story. Also that people with a learning disability are unlikely to have the cognitive ability to do this and to maintain a consistent line over time, unless what they are saying is true. Further, Professor Hollins points out that people with learning disabilities are more likely to withhold allegations of abuse because of low self-esteem or fear.
No-one wants to see anyone being wrongfully convicted of an abuse they did not commit. However, it is our view that the inquiry should be mindful of the unique vulnerability of children and young people with learning disabilities, where the abuse goes undetected and unreported. When it is reported, victims are not believed or permitted access to justice as those who do not have a learning disability are.