Non-verbal victims in the adversarial criminal process: communication, competency, and credibility
Keywords:victims, witnesses, disabilities, communication, competency, credibility, augmentative and alternative communication
Research consistently shows that persons with learning disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime. For such victims, engaging with the criminal justice system may be fraught with difficulties given the expectation that victims should normally articulate verbally and with fluency both their testimony and their views on issues pertaining to the justice process itself. Grounded in the principle of orality and often likened to a system of gladiatorial combat, adversarial justice systems have a poor track record of hearing the voices of victims of crime who have learning disabilities. However, recent years have witnessed an attitudinal shift towards meeting the needs of victims who require communication support; with legal and policy reforms introduced across multiple jurisdictions designed to enable more effective participation in the justice process. Augmentative and alternative communication could constitute an important support mechanism to enable and empower victims of crime who would struggle to express themselves verbally in the courtroom; yet these alternative forms of voice are alien to the oral tradition and sit uneasily within the priority traditionally afforded to adversarial questioning techniques.