Access to Justice

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Nikki Kubala neurodisability artwork

Access to Justice Research

Access  to justice is not just about an individual’s access to courts or legal representation. At a broad level access to justice describes the fundamental right that everyone has to seek and obtain a remedy via formal or informal institutions of justice. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities draws attention to access to justice via Article 12 and Article 13.

For the past decade, the DBI has been involved in a range of research collaborations that have focused on increasing access to justice for disabled people.

Exploring Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: An Integrative Literature Review

In 2016 the Office for Disability issues commissioned the DBI to undertake literature review based research to designed to expand on our understanding of Article 12 of the UNCRPD. In particular this research sought to explore both the UN Disability Committee’s interpretation of Article 12, and how other States Parties have approached the implementation of Article 12. The report has a strong focus on supported decision making philosophy and practice. The report can be accessed here.

Developing a more responsive legal system for people with intellectual disability in New Zealand

In 2011 DBI researchers partnered with legal academics on a consultation project funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation. The consultation was designed to provide an informed assessment of the need for research focused on the education and disability awareness of legal professionals, with the potential to improve legal support and services to people with learning disability. The views and perspectives of judges, lawyers and disability sector representatives were sought in this preliminary project. All three groups agreed that people with learning disability frequently experience disadvantage within the legal system due to difficulties in recognising learning disability and its likely impact. This consultation project revealed the problematic experiences of people with learning disabilities in the legal system and provided evidence of the challenges that both they, and legal professionals face.

In 2012 the New Zealand Law Foundation again invested in this important area of research by funding a 2-year research project designed to generate findings that have the potential to contribute to the development of a more responsive legal system for people with learning disability. Forty individuals with intellectual disabilities shared their legal experiences with members of the research team. Participants shared a range of legal experiences across the range of court jurisdictions. New Zealand lawyers and judges were also interviewed about their experiences of working with, or making legal decisions about people with learning disabilities. Findings highlighted that all three participant groups shared similar ideas about what would contribute to a more responsive legal system, and have subsequently underpinned ongoing judicial education relating to communication in the courtroom.

The research report Developing a more responsive legal system for people with intellectual disability in New Zealand can be accessed here.

Benchmark - Online Resource

Demonstrating transformative research in practice the learning from the Developing a Responsive Legal System research was used to underpin a collaborative project designed to deliver a resource for legal professionals working with children and adults who may be vulnerable in the legal system. Working together with legal academics and practitioners, disabled people, researchers and clinicians a series of guidelines have been developed to encourage responsive and evidence-based legal practice. Relevant case law is used to demonstrate legal precedence for the recommended procedures and practice, making it a very practical resource for busy legal professionals. Benchmark is an evolving resource, and new guidelines will be added over time. Benchmark can be accessed here. This exciting project was funded and supported by the New Zealand Law Foundation and the IHC Foundation.

Towards an understanding of the prevalence of Neurodevelopmental impairment in New Zealand’s young adult population

Building on from these earlier projects, the Donald Beasley Institute has an ongoing commitment to access to justice for neurodiverse young people. We are currently in the early  stages of a project designed to develop a more robust understanding of the prevalence of Neurodevelopmental Impairment in New Zealand’s young adult population, with particular emphasis on those who have been involved with youth and criminal justice systems. We are excited to partner with Mr Warren Forster, Independent Researcher, Professor Nathan Hughes and Betony Clasby from the University of Sheffield, UK and Nick Bowden, University of Otago on this work which utilises New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure. The research will be completed in September 2020 and we gratefully acknowledge the support of both the New Zealand Law Foundation and the Borrin Foundation, which has enabled us to undertake this work.


Project Artwork by Nikki Kubala


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