An IBA report calls for stronger action by lawyers and governments to help protect the rights of people with disabilities

Lawyers, the wider legal community and governments could and should do more to help protect the rights of people with disabilities – some 15% of the global population – according to a report presented at the annual conference of the International Bar Association (IBA) in Sydney last month.

The report was commissioned by the IBA Access to Justice & Legal Aid Committee, of which Scotland’s Andrew Mackenzie is co-vice chair, and researched and written by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. It draws on the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, human rights law and the UN Sustainable Development Goals to analyse the challenges in accessing justice around the world for people with disabilities and identify how the legal community can best use its position, skills and expertise to overcome the barriers that still exist.

Key findings are:

  • crime against people with disabilities appears to be significantly underreported, and lawyers can help by encouraging greater reporting, and therefore more accurate evidence for policy;
  • litigation can help to overturn discriminatory laws, but by intervening at an earlier stage lawyers can help to prevent the passing of laws that look likely to impact negatively against people with disabilities;
  • litigation requires evidence, and evidence requires data, yet data gathered by many countries still does not include a breakdown in relation to people with disabilities;
  • for people with mental disabilities, deemed unfit to stand trial but subjected to enforced hospitalisation, further research and investigation is needed to resolve the conflicts with human rights;
  • voluntary guidelines on treatment of and communication with people with disabilities during judicial proceedings need to be strengthened into codes of practice to ensure consistent application;
  • new technologies and online dispute resolution should be encouraged as helping people with disabilities overcome marginalisation in the justice system. 
The report, Access to justice for people with disabilities: From international principles to practice, can be downloaded from the IBA website.
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