Of all the areas of Public Administration, perhaps Justice is the most complicated to understand for an average citizen. Their specialized language, and on many occasions cumbersome, makes it difficult for the defendant to approach this public service. How much more if we are talking about an intellectually disabled person who at some point in his life has to solve a problem in court or is part of a procedure that affects him.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities establishes that “States parties shall ensure that they have access to justice on equal terms with others (…), in all judicial proceedings.” Although twelve years have passed since the entry into force of that convention, and important steps are being taken in that direction (a good example of this is the treatment of the disabled in the new criminal process, whose draft was approved last week), there is still much to do. For now, facilitate understanding of court decisions, start the house with the foundations.
With this philosophy, “easy-to-read resolutions” are intended to bring legal language closer to the intellectually disabled, a adaptation that allows you to know the content of a sentence that affects you with simpler language and without having to resort to a legal professional to explain it to you.
The initiative is part of the collaboration agreement signed on October 24, 2018 between the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) and the organization Plena Inclusión España, and It starts with 23 sentences handed down by judges of the First Instance of the Principality of Asturias in matters of capacity modification. The idea is to extend this fund to resolutions issued in other Autonomous Communities such as Madrid or La Rioja. All of them can be consulted in the public access database of the Judicial Documentation Center (Cendoj), the technical body of the CGPJ, responsible for the dissemination of jurisprudence.
The resolution in question explains to the intellectually disabled person what the document in front of them is, what has been decided and what they can do if they do not agree with it. The adaptation, carried out by the Plena Inclusión cognitive accessibility and validation teams, It consists of using a larger font than usual, simple words, short sentences and even pictograms. In a second phase, this adaptation has to pass the filter of the validation groups, which are made up of people with different cognitive abilities. If someone does not understand it, the document in question fails the test. Finally, legal advisers make sure that there is a concordance between the legal writing in question and the one that is easy to read.
Speaking to ABC, Aida Álvarez, from Plena Inclusión Asturias. explains the benefits that this adaptation entails not only for people with intellectual disabilities, but for those whose comprehension faculties are limited for educational reasons or due to diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Specialized in cognitive accessibility, Álvarez is one of the workers in charge of this adaptation, the convenience of which must always be assessed by the magistrate and all parties agree. The easy-to-read “translation” is not of the entire resolution, but only of the ruling, which is ultimately what the affected person wants to know: if they need the support of their parents or legal guardian to sign a contract, to undergo medical treatment or to decide where they are going to live.
For Álvarez, this initiative not only has advantages for the intellectually disabled. Also for their families. «Limiting a person’s rights is a very tough decision -explains- and his closest nucleus feels more relieved when others explain what the judge has decided.
“I do not understand politicians when they speak”
Carmen B., 56, is part of one of the groups that validates judicial decisions. She values the work she is doing with other colleagues who, like her, have an intellectual disability. It is considered helpful in providing help that she would also like to have received. And not only in the field of justice. Here he slides a criticism of the lack of sensitivity that, in his opinion, society has on many occasions with the disabled in other areas. “I don’t understand what a drug (leaflet) says, but neither do politicians when they speak,” he says. «Even if we live with someone we would like to know why we should vote for a person and not vote for it because we are told that it is that person we have to vote for, “he reflects.
After the first filter by Aida and her partner, in the validation group, Carmen and three other intellectually disabled people read the court document, underline the words they did not understand and propose alternatives to be replaced by more understandable ones. The idea is that the four, with different cognitive abilities, understand it, and until this is not the case, the document is not approved.
An obligation, a duty
The initiative has been warmly welcomed by the judicial career, which the member of the CGPJ and president of the Justice and Disability Forum, Juan Manuel Fernández, He has written a letter asking for your collaboration to nurture the new documentary collection. In it, he reminds his colleagues that, in those proceedings in which one of the intervening parties has some type of intellectual disability, the resolutions that are issued can be adapted to the easy-to-read format, which in no case replaces the sentence, but rather that it is a strictly informative document.
“For the judges to make us understand is an obligation, it is a duty,” insists Fernández. Remember that judicial decisions not only have to be motivated, reasoned: «We also have the obligation that they can understand them. It is a basic right of any person who has to appear in a process, their right to know why they have been summoned, what consequences it can bring you and what are your rights ”.