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People with learning disabilities

The guidance on this page is for carers of persons who have a learning disability and are involved in a case as a victim or witness.

COPFS also has easy-read guides available explaining the court process. These are designed for readers with learning difficulties.

Court cases and learning disabilities

If a person with a learning disability is a victim of, or witness to, a crime, and has been asked to give evidence at court, it's likely that their evidence is essential. This means that without it, offenders may not be brought to justice.

The court takes seriously what any witnesses saw, heard, or experienced of the incident. If we send out a citation for someone you are carer for, please ensure that they attend.

We will protect their rights as a witness. They have the right to be treated fairly and with respect. We will help people with a learning disability to do everything they are able to. We will also take action if other people are trying to scare them while they give evidence.

Identifying needs early

If you are a carer for a person we have asked to give evidence, let us know as soon as possible if they will need extra support or if you think that they might benefit from it.

Once we know that the witness has a learning disability, our Victim Information and Advice service can get involved to provide further information and support. (See link below for details or call 0300 020 3000.) They will tell victims and witnesses about what is happening with the case.

Precognition

We may want to meet with individual witnesses before the case goes to court. This is so we can find out what evidence they have and put it together into a statement. We call this precognition. Read more about it here.

Precognition is a good time for us to see if someone should be treated as a vulnerable witness. We may be able to plan special measures to make the court experience less stressful. (See link below for more information: Vulnerable victims and witnesses.)

Appropriate adults

In some cases, an ‘appropriate adult’ may be present at the precognition interview. This person helps us and the person with learning difficulties talk and understand each other. Appropriate adults have special training to do this.

What carers can and cannot do

Carers can help professionals involved in the case to know the witness’ level of understanding. You can also help them deal with our citation papers.

Before the trial, carers may want to prepare disabled witnesses for court. However, you must not:

  • discuss what evidence they plan to give
  • coach them or help them rehearse what to say
  • show approval or disapproval of certain evidence

If the court agrees, a carer, who is not a witness, can be a ‘supporter’ for the disabled witness. This lets you sit with the person for moral support. If you are a supporter, you must not touch, speak, or gesture to the witness as they give evidence.

Issues at court

When someone with a learning disability is involved in a court case, the judge may intervene.

Adjustment

We want witnesses with a learning disability to be comfortable when they speak to the court. The judge might let them sit while giving evidence, or take regular breaks. We may offer other measures to help them worry less about other people in the courtroom. (See link below for more information: Vulnerable victims and witnesses.)

Resources

Understanding courts and cases

The court, the case, and the justice process can be hard to understand. You may need help explaining these things to the person involved in the case.

We can give you video clips and easy-read, accessible picture booklets. They describe the court and the different people in it. These resources show what it is like to be in court, and what we need witnesses to do. They also explain the special measures that help vulnerable witnesses to cope with giving evidence.

Victim Support Scotland

This organisation gives emotional and practical support. It also has its Witness Service. They can take people to see what an empty courtroom is like before the actual trial happens.