Our research executive Nicola Johnstone asks what is vulnerability and how does it affect the experiences of vulnerable people in our criminal justice system? She also discusses a roundtable event being held by the Criminal Justice Committee and our research team to gather examples of best practice.


What is vulnerability? More specifically, what is vulnerability in a criminal justice system context? As a colleague said to me the other day, it could be as simple as being questioned by the police. But there may be more to this issue than is immediately obvious.

After all, it can be difficult to identify whether someone has a vulnerability as some vulnerabilities may be more obvious than others. If someone has a learning disability, this may be evident from the first time you communicate with them.

But are all vulnerabilities what they initially seem to be at first glance? An individual may display behaviours that might lead you to believe they are drunk. But they may have a medical condition that leads them to act in a certain way, without the consumption of any alcohol.

How are individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system assessed for vulnerabilities and what processes are in place to assist them? This is one of the key areas for discussion to come out of this year’s newly launched annual plan.

The Criminal Law Committee of the Society and our research team will be putting these questions to practitioners, those involved in service delivery, and representatives of vulnerable groups themselves at a roundtable event this November. The event will focus on vulnerable accused – that is people who have been accused of a crime or are involved in the criminal justice system as a suspect. Our aim is to share best practice and learn lessons from as many different angles as possible.

We are hosting our event on 16th November at our offices in Edinburgh under Chatham House rules to encourage open, honest debate. The lessons we learn from the day’s discussions will be gathered into a report in the new year. Any small improvement or change that can benefit individuals and ensure their effective participation in the criminal justice system will be a worthwhile outcome of this project.



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