Book Review – “Addressing Vulnerability in Justice Systems”

Addressing Vulnerability in Justice Systems (ed Penny Cooper and Linda Hunting, Wildy, Simmons and Hill, 2016, hardback, £19.95)

This very reasonably priced collection of essays from the inaugural conference convened by the Advocacy Training Council in June 2015 provides extremely useful (and a times extremely worrying) insights into how we are, and are not, addressing issues of vulnerability within our justice system. Its focus is primarily upon the criminal sphere, but it has a very helpful chapter by Felicity Gerry QC on vulnerability within the civil litigation field (including a helpful discussion of Advocates Gateway Toolkit 17, which aims to give practical assistance in this area). A short but powerful chapter by Charles Geekie QC also shows how the family court still lags some way behind the criminal sphere, but previews some of the changes that in train (including the much awaited Practice Direction on judges seeing children).  

The absence of any substantive reference to the Court of Protection in these essays is telling. It reminds us that the court which in some ways should be most concerned with issues of an vulnerability is ironically still furthest behind. The ad hoc Rules Committee is, however, very alive to this, and work is underway which I for one hope will bear fruit sooner rather than later. This book, and the Advocates Gateway from which it springs, provides both inspiration and a practical ideas which we can draw upon. 
The message I took away from this book, however, is more fundamental. As raised by Penny Cooper, co-editor and driving force behind the Gateway, we really are going wrong where we seek to bend witnesses and parties with disabilities or situational difficulties to the mechanisms of a court designed for educated and experienced professionals. Rather, if we took seriously equality of access to justice for those with disabilities (a right under article 13 CRPD – interestingly not canvassed here), we would be starting from a very different model altogether. These themes are also explored by Eilionoir Flynn’s excellent “Disabled Justice?”(Routledge, 2015) which makes an ideal companion piece to the present work, outlining as it does the potential impact of article 13 in a whole range of spheres linked to justice. 

That book may suggest some of the places we may end up; the present set of essays should both stimulate further reflection on the adequacies of the systems we have in place and begins to sketch out some of the routes towards a very different model. 

[Full disclosure: I am grateful to the publishers for providing me with a copy of this book. I am always happy to review works in the field of mental capacity (broadly defined)]

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