Early identification of autism is ‘essential for justice’

The early identification of autistic spectrum disorders when dealing with individuals in the criminal justice system is key to ensuring fair treatment, a barrister told a Brookdale Care conference in London yesterday.

Roger Pezzani, who specialises in representing people with mental health problems or learning disabilities, told the conference that people with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) can and do frequently come into contact with the criminal justice system. There are ways the criminal justice system could improve its awareness of the treatment of people with ASD, he said.

“The early identification of ASD is crucial, particularly to ensure that the person is treated fairly,” he said.

He said that it may not be easy to recognise that a person has ASD as their IQ may well be higher than the police, judges and lawyers who are dealing with them. But an individual with ASD may act in a manner that makes sense to them yet could be  seen by others as contrary to their best interests.

Pezzani, a former care worker, suggestesd ways of working with people with ASD within the framework of the Mental Capacity Act including the use of guardianship.

However, he concluded: “It is disappointing for me to have to describe creative ways of interpreting the Mental Capacity Act to you to afford people with ASD some kind of protection.”

Useful links

Brookdale Care

National Autistic Society

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