Autism Assessments for The Courts and Lawyers By Expert Psychologists In London and Throughout the UK
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Autism and The Law
Autistic people face many challenges when they come into contact with the law. Our expert psychologists work with solicitors, families and the courts to ensure people with autism are treated fairly at every stage of the legal process. There are standard procedures to go through when being involved in a crime as a witness or victim. The police must establish whether an offence has been committed and if they must immediately protect you and preserve evidence. Police must conduct a formal interview which will be recorded and played in the court to avoid retelling the account. It is essential that as vulnerable people, autistic people must feel comfortable in the scenario which many of them, are often not. Autistic people are entitled to a witness supporter, e.g. a carer, teacher or social worker to stay through the interview. For further information on autism and the law, find out more here
For information on the rights of young people on the autistic spectrum click this link
Autism and The Law - How Do Psychologist’s Help the Courts Hear Cases Involving People With ASD?
Autism is not a single disorder but a group of disorders. Some individuals with ASD build their own worlds and need lifelong intensive care; other individuals with ASD only need minimal support. Our expertise as expert psychologists lies in determining the severity of an individual’s Autism Spectrum Disorder and determining whether this means that they have the capacity to bring or defend proceedings in civil cases, and in criminal cases whether or not they are fit to plead and unfit to stand trial or require special measures.
The psychologist can recommend a series of special measures in criminal proceedings ― the special measures will ensure that the victim, witness or defendant who has autism will be given a fair hearing. The special measures might include having an intermediary who helps the person with ASD understand what is happening during the proceedings and respond appropriately so as not to diminish the quality of the evidence provided by the person with ASD. These special measures may include recommendations on how the evidence is presented to the witness or defendant with autism and where the person with ASD gives their evidence. The special measures are recommended to try to address the substantial disadvantage that witnesses, victims and defendants with autism face in the legal system and to try to put them on a level playing field.
There is no one test to diagnose autism; diagnosis is based on an individual’s history, the developmental milestones that are reached at ages and a range of other indicators
What Difficulties Do Defendants with Autism Face in the Criminal Justice System?
People with autism face many difficulties in the criminal justice system, both at the arrest stage when being interviewed by the police when giving instructions to their solicitors and finally when appearing at court. Our experience as expert psychologists of working with people with autism is to work with solicitors and barristers to ensure that people with ASD are treated fairly and that they can provide the best possible evidence as defendants or witnesses in criminal proceedings.
The legal process is more challenging for individuals with autism because they find social communication demanding and struggle with social interaction and social imagination. Additionally, individuals with autism may have sensory problems and struggle with coordination.
When observed by others in court, the person with ASD may present as unusual, and this can negatively impact on their credibility both as victims, and witnesses or conversely as offenders. People with autism in court may find it challenging to maintain eye contact and may not like individuals staring at them.
Top 5 Reasons Why People with Autism Become Unwittingly Involved in Crime
- Firstly, because they are socially naive, they can be taken advantage of and manipulated by criminals and recruited into criminal activity without fully appreciating what they are doing. Difficulties in social interaction may mean that they find it hard to understand they are being drawn into illegal activity. They may have a rather simplistic view of crime. Because they find it hard to make new friends, they may naïvely engage in criminal activity to maintain friendships with people who may be exploiting them.
- Secondly, some individuals with autism who have limited social imagination may not appreciate the consequences of their behaviour. Therefore, it can take them much longer to learn from past offences that they have committed. Consequently, some individuals with autism may require enhanced support and guidance.
- Thirdly, they may misread social cues. For instance, an individual with ASD may interpret someone staring at them as a sign that that person is making inappropriate sexual advances towards them.
- Fourthly, the tendency of autistic people to stick strictly to rules means that they may become distressed if someone else breaks these rules, and this can, unfortunately, result in offences being committed ― either as a result of sticking to the rules laid down by associates who are engaged in criminal activity or by reacting to other people that break the rules.
- Fifthly, there is a tendency for some people with autism to react with “autistic meltdowns” which may be interpreted as aggression by others when there is a sudden change in routine or environment. This can cause them to be more liable to prosecution for public order offences.
In some cases that we have dealt with courts have decided based on our expert psychologists’ evidence that the individual with autism did not have the required criminal intent to be guilty of the offence. Conversely, our expert psychologists have been able to show that a defendant did not meet the necessary threshold criteria to use a diagnosis of ASD as a defence.
Finally, if a person with autism spectrum disorder is convicted, our psychologists can produce sentencing reports and advise on the best possible disposal of the case. Given that individuals with autism are often very vulnerable, and impressionable a custodial sentence may make their behaviour worse, they are given a prison sentence. In cases where it is found that a defendant is unfit to plead and unfit to stand trial, this can sometimes result in a hospital order, unlike a prison sentence some hospital orders have indefinite release dates.
Autism and Fitness to Plead
In the many cases, people on the autism spectrum, are not fit to plead. A psychological or psychiatric report should be obtained if a client has a mental health disorder before any proceedings continue. People with autism must be assessed for whether they truly understand the weight of the crime and if they can comprehend the proceedings. This is where we specialise in writing medical legal reports for court cases which involve defendants with autism spectrum disorder. If a client is proven unfit to plead the court may give a hospital or a guardianship order. If they are fit to plead, then the Crown court proceedings will continue as normal.
Special measures are available for witnesses with autism, learning disabilities, mental health problems and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Under the Mental Health Act of 1983, if people with autism spectrum disorder are found guilty, the Magistrate court has the options of giving: a hospital order, a guardianship order or an absolute discharge. For more information on autism in the court of law click the link
What Difficulties Do People with Autism Face in The Family Courts?
As far as autism and family law is concerned, cases often involve parents with ASD who want to have residents or staying contact with their child. It is critical that the court is made aware if a child has autism during the proceedings so that the necessary arrangements can be made for a specialist from the Child and Family Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) with experience of dealing with autism to become involved. Similarly, any Guardian appointed by CAFCASS or the National Youth Advisory Service (NYAS) should ideally have experience of dealing with children with autism spectrum disorder.
Our expert psychologists have provided assessments to family courts; local authorities; guardians; and Special Guardians ― in cases where the child subject to the proceedings has or is suspected of having autism.
Indeed, court orders may need to be varied or drafted more sensitively to provide for the flexibility that is required to facilitate staying contact or changes in residence of children who have ASD.
There are several special needs that need to be provided for in child care cases where children have autism, such children may be very vulnerable to conflict or specific decisions made by the court, and they may be unable to articulate their frustration with the court process or one or both parents. Changes in legal residence and child contact may have a more adverse effect on a child with autism than a child without ASD.
Children with autism in contact and divorce disputes may show increasing levels of stress, anxiety and challenging behaviour. This behaviour may inadvertently be blamed on one or both parents. Effective communication to help the child transition is, therefore, key.
Find Out More About Autism, The Law and The Courts
- Rights for Children and Young People on the Autism Spectrum
- Encounters with the Law ― National Autistic Society
- ASD Assessment ― Expert Witness Psychologist Blog
- Criminal Justice ― National Autistic Society
- Autism and Law Enforcement: A Plea for Understanding
- Autism and Child Arrangement Disputes - Family Law Week
- Divorce Cases Involving Children with Autism | Psychology Today
- Child Arrangement Disputes and Autism
- Special Considerations in Child Custody Evaluations for Children with Autism
- Special Considerations in a Divorce Involving an Autistic Child
- Autism and Shared Parenting
- Autism Spectrum and Child Arrangement Disputes
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