The Ministry of Justice is telling people with learning difficulties that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent
Easy Reads are a good thing. Done properly, they can explain difficult concepts and complex processes to people who happen to have learning difficulties.
But given this target audience, it is all the more important that Easy Reads are accurate as well as accessible.
The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has just published an Easy Read for defendants in criminal trials at the Crown Court.
In this Easy Read, the MoJ tells defendants that they have to prove they are innocent. This is a reversal of the actual burden of proof – it is, of course, for the prosecution to prove to the court a defendant is guilty.
What makes this particularly worrying is that it is in an official document – supposed to be authoritative and reliable – aimed at people with learning difficulties facing trials for serious crimes (the Crown Court is for serious crimes and its trials are with juries, the magistrates’ courts do not have juries and are for less serious crimes).
If a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty at the Crown Court, the usual sentence is imprisonment.
What has probably happened is that the copywriter had no legal qualifications or experience, and the Easy Read was then published without anyone with legal qualifications or experience at the MoJ bothering to check that the Easy Read was accurate – that is, before publishing it for people with learning difficulties to rely on when they are accused of serious crimes.
The MoJ is not in a good state internally; but telling people with learning difficulties that they are guilty if accused of serious crimes unless they can prove they are innocent is surely a low-point.
A MoJ spokesperson said this afternoon:
“We are reviewing this guide and will remove it from our website while this process takes place.”
Hat-tip to Mukul Chawla QC for spotting this.
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