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Justice and the autistic person

04 November 2019

Inside Magistrate's Courtroom

A human rights lawyer who represented the Pentagon Hacker is due to speak at an event in Jersey next week about the experience of people with autism within the criminal justice system. 

The event, which is believed to be the first of its kind in Jersey, aims to improve the understanding of professionals within Justice and Home Affairs on how best to support islanders with an autism spectrum disorder when they become involved with the honorary police, States of Jersey Police or court system. 

Jersey Adult Autism Service (JAAS) has organised the conference, which will be held at The Grand Jersey on Tuesday 5 November between 8.30am and 1pm, in partnership with Autism Jersey, the Probation Service and the States of Jersey Prison Service.  

A keynote speaker at the event is human rights lawyer Karen Todner, who specialises in representing those on the autistic spectrum. Her previous cases include representing Gary McKinnon, the Pentagon Hacker, who was accused of hacking into 97 US military and NASA computers over a 13-month period and Tom Hayes, a former Libor banker who was arrested for his involvement in manipulating Libor rates.  

Professor Richard Mills, an associate consultant and adviser to the board of AT Autism, is also due to speak at the event about why autistic people come into contact with the criminal justice system. 

Assumpta Finn, manager of JAAS who has helped organise the conference, said: "This is the first event of its kind in Jersey. We want to look at what the experience is of somebody in Jersey when they get involved in the criminal justice system and look at the areas where we need to develop services. 

"We know that a lot of people with autism have communication difficulties and have issues around social interaction. We know that these issues can pose problems for people when they interact with the law. For example, some people may not speak when they are stressed but that may be interpreted as they are being non-compliant.  

"We want to raise awareness amongst professionals that they may need to make reasonable adjustments for an individual with autism should they need to be interviewed or go to court. This includes professionals considering the environment and how questions are phrased. We are not wanting any special treatment but just for the experience for the autistic person to be fair and reasonable." 

The event is being sponsored by Autism Jersey. Chris Dunne, chief executive of the charity who is also speaking at the conference, said: "I am delighted that Autism Jersey are sponsoring this very important conference.  

"It is our ambition to ensure that all agencies work together and work better to support people on the autistic spectrum who come in to contact with the justice system here in Jersey, and to help people live successful and fulfilling lives that help reduce the risk of people offending in the first place." 

Justice and Home Affairs Director General Julian Blazeby, who is introducing the conference, said: "We’re conscious that islanders on the autism spectrum, like any member of the public, can come into contact with the criminal justice system.

"This conference is important as we want to ensure that relevant professionals are equipped with the right knowledge and understanding of autism to ensure individuals are treated fairly and appropriately."

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