Published: 04 September 2017
Author: Dan McGlade

Can the legal process be improved for clients with Acquired Brain Injuries?

The legal process and the court system can be confusing, foreign and confronting for most people, even the most well-educated and brightest. However, for people suffering the effects of an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), those challenges and difficulties can be multiplied many times over.

A recent article in The Age titled 'Small changes could save the prison system millions and save lives' reinforced there is plenty more we can do to help the law better serve people with an ABI.

At Stringer Clark, we are widely recognised for our work in personal injury law and the pursuit of compensation. This often involves working with people with an ABI, very often the result of a transport accident.

A moral or economic obligation?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 700,000 Australians have a brain injury, with daily “activity limitations” and “participation restrictions”. Three in every four of these people are aged 65 or under. As many as two out of every three acquired their brain injury before the age of 25.

I have witnessed first-hand the problems the legal system can cause for a client with a head injury.

The effects of an ABI can often be quite subtle. A person with an ABI might appear normal physically but have difficulties in terms of memory, comprehending and taking in information, expressing themselves and with social interactions and exchanges. Interacting with police,court staff and officials, and even magistrates and judges can be problematic. Sometimes responses may seem inappropriate and behaviour anti-social giving rise to offence, conflict and hostility leading to poor outcomes in our legal and judicial system.

Interestingly, according to The Age newspaper, research shows that:

  • Around 42 per cent of males and 33 per cent of women in Victoria's prisons have an ABI
  • Most are in prison for low-level reoffending – sometimes even for breaches of community corrections orders with which their ABI made it almost impossible to comply
  • This means that people with an ABI are one of the criminal justice system's biggest clients
  • Yet this system has failed to listen, understand or learn from their experience at almost every single point.

Creating a new paradigm                                            

We support the Enabling Justice Project, a collaboration between RMIT's Centre for Innovative Justice and Jesuit Social Services, which is shining a light on this experience.

The Project will explore ways to address the over-incarceration of people with an ABI. They will do this by having people with an ABI who have direct experience of the criminal justice system and imprisonment at the centre of the discussion. It will empower them to shift from passive participants to become advocates for reform – with recommendations based on their own experience.

It is this type of design thinking and empathy for human kind that will help improve the justice system experience for all involved.

Categories Serious Injury, TAC

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