I was given a fascinating article by Professor Penny Cooper of the University of London and 39 Essex Chamber and Clare Allely of the University of Salford and Gothenburg University.
The article is published in the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly (68(1):35-38 and it is entitled “You can’t judge a book by its cover:- evolving professional responsibilities, liabilities and ‘judgecraft’ when a party has Asperger’s Syndrome”.
Sadly, in my own practice of child abuse compensation claims, people with learning difficulties are often vulnerable to abuse and the effects of that abuse can wreck their what is a difficult interaction with society.
The writers begin by identifying Asperger’s Syndrome as an autistic disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which was developed and is maintained by the American Psychiatric Association. There is now an Autism Act in Northern Ireland which has amended the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and has removed any doubt that autism is not a disability.
The writers refer to a number of cases where a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome has been to the court’s decision. The first of these is Patrick Galo v Bombardier Aerospace Case Refs 751/13  IT700/14. In that case the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland laid down a number of principles to be followed when one of the parties in a case suffered from disability. That included having an early “ground rules” hearing where the court meet to discuss issues such as how the disabled person’s evidence is to be taken.
The writers also discuss the lawyer’s responsibility to identify a client’s disability. This can be very difficult indeed with certain conditions. Certainly, there is evidence to show that the police and the Crown Prosecution services something miss this issue.
The article moves on to the identification of Asperger’s Syndrome. Few lawyers are trained to spot this, but the writers give some brief pointers around social interaction and social communication.
They then move to identify a number of cases where the courts have made allowances for parties with Asperger’s Syndrome, and the various methods employed to ensure that there is a fair hearing. In one case, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales found a jury’s verdict to be unsafe because they jury had not known that the Defendant had Asperger’s Syndrome. That condition made him evasive with questions, because he was pre-occupied with matters of detail.
Having worked with a number of clients with learning difficulties, I found this article an eye opener. I recommend it to any lawyer who is dealing with any such client.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer