Criminal justice system
No one plans for their young person to be in a situation where the police become involved. But it’s important to be aware of how you can support them if it happens.
Your young person could come into contact with the police if they
- commit a crime, or are accused of committing a crime
- are the victim of a crime
- witness a crime.
Committing a crime
If someone is over 16 and accused of committing an offence, they are considered to be an adult. You will only be able to accompany them at the police station or subsequently if you have guardianship.
If you don’t have this, and a police officer recognises they have a disability or learning difficulty, an “appropriate adult” will be brought in to support them. This will usually be a duty social worker, who may not know or understand the person or their condition. They will try and make sure someone understands what’s happening and what they are being told, but it isn’t their role to give advice or direct support.
The organisation SOLD – Supporting Offenders with Learning Disabilities – has an Easy Read guide to what happens when someone is arrested, and what to expect.
Being a victim of crime
Anyone can become a victim. You can report a crime on someone else’s behalf by calling the police using 999 in an emergency, or 101 for non emergencies – always be clear about any disability and how it affects the person concerned. You can stay with them and help the police understand how best to communicate with them.
Hate crime is crime motivated by ill will towards someone because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Many hate crimes go unreported because victims don’t know how to report the matter or think it won’t be taken seriously.
You can anonymously report a hate crime online through the Police Scotland website or through third party reporting centres – these are based in places like libraries or council offices where staff should have been trained to help a victim or witness to a hate crime.
Mate crime is when someone befriends a vulnerable person with the intention of exploiting them financially, sexually or any other way.
Young people can be vulnerable if they have difficulty reading social situations and may not be clear if someone is a genuine friend or not.
Signs someone may have been a victim of crime include:
- giving away their money and possessions, or money and possessions going missing;
- property damaged or destroyed;
- bruising or soreness indicating physical or sexual abuse;
- uncharacteristic mood change – depression, fear or violent behaviour;
- change in social hygiene and self care;
- any indication of alcohol or drug abuse.
Victims and witnesses of crime who have a learning disability should get help from the Victim Information and Advice Service, which is part of the Prosecution Service.
Witnessing a crime
If your young person witnesses a crime, it’s important to put everything they know or recall about the incident in writing as soon as possible. You can do this with them.
You should then report the incident to the police as soon as possible. Be clear about the young person’s disability and how it affects them. The police will need to speak to them and you can help them ask questions appropriately.
Your young person may be called as a witness if an offender comes to trial. If that happens they will be given any help they need to go to court. If they will find going to court too difficult, there are special measures the sheriff or judge can allow under the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act (2004). They could be allowed to sit behind a screen or use a TV link to give evidence, to have a supporter with them, or to make a written statement to be read out in court.
Victim Support Scotland can help victims or witnesses with learning disabilities through the court process.
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