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Persons with disabilities in court proceedings

The Helsinki Foundation has called on the Minister of Justice to introduce facilities appropriate for persons with mental disabilities to legal procedures.

The proposed solutions should enable persons with mental disabilities to actively take part in the legal process and guarantee that their arguments are not disregarded. The regulations named in the HFHR’s proposal should also protect such persons against secondary victimisation.

Currently the rules of criminal, civil and administrative procedure laid down in the relevant Codes include no regulations that would take into account special needs of persons with intellectual disabilities.

According to the HFHR, the new rules should apply to the manner in which such persons are heard, ensure that mentally disabled people have the right to court appointed counsel and waive certain formal requirements in respect of this group. The reform should also abolish some limitations of procedural rights imposed on legally incapacitated persons, who under current law are unable even to independently request the prosecution of a crime committed against them.

“We think that a legislative reform is just one element of the actions that must be taken; on the top of other measures, regular training on the rights of persons with disabilities should be provided for judges, prosecutors and police officers”, says Marcin Szwed, a lawyer from the HFHR.

“It would also be a good idea to develop a set of guidelines regarding the treatment of persons with disabilities in legal proceedings”, adds another HFHR lawyer, Michał Kopczyński.

In October, the HFHR presented an amicus curiae opinion in a case before the ECtHR. This case involves M.P. the man with an intellectual disability who claims that he was raped by his therapist. The accused therapist has been acquitted, mainly because the courts did not believe M.P.’s testimony. The Foundation argued in the opinion that Polish law contained no appropriate regulations that would take into consideration disabled persons’ status in legal proceedings.

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