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Study to examine autistic experiences in the legal system

Family Law | 7 Mar 2016 8

The experiences of autistic people within the family justice system will be the focus of new research by barrister Dr Rob George and psychologist Dr Anna Remington.

The pair plan to explore the perspectives of people with autism who have been caught up in legal cases, and then use this information to draw up practice guidance for professionals on how best to meet their needs.

Dr George is a barrister at Harcourt Chambers while Dr Remington works at the University College London Institute of Education.

Writing in the March edition of Family Law, Dr George explained:

“Autistic people comprise around one per cent of the population, yet there is minimal knowledge about their treatment by the court system or how their condition may affect their access to justice. This is concerning, as many aspects of autism (such as inability to decode non-verbal cues or to understand non-literal language and subtext) render individuals with the condition vulnerable to being taken advantage of in negotiation or dispute settings. In addition, a departure from daily routine and lack of control of the situation can cause autistic individuals a great deal of distress.”

The researchers welcome participation and feedback from both autistic people with experience of the family law system and from lawyers and legal professionals with have dealt with clients and litigants with the condition. They are interested in both positive and negative experiences, as well as any strategies that could help others.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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    1. JamesB says:

      Awful. Will give you an example I know of. ASD person self representing. Judge starts finding things as fact, ASD person interrupts, saying that’s not fact, Judge shouts at ASD person and orders costs against them.

      ASD people when they can’t afford a lawyer get stuffed and better off sitting at back of court with headphones on. If they try to engage will get stuffed by lawyers and Judges for not getting the nuances which ‘normalish’ people or lawyers might.

      I will give you an example. Woman claims ASD person is violent and fabricates completely make believe situation, where for example ASD male has seen the children one weekend. Also says he neglects or abuses child(ren). He may very well sit there knowing such stuff is nonsense and ignore it and raise another subject or say nothing. Judge then doesn’t have a clue what to do as has sworn affidavit and person lying and the other person saying nothing. Then contact goes woman wins etc.

      Only thing to do is for Judges to try harder rather than leave it to the lawyers, who try and wind up the opposition and present their own case. Judges need to take control of their own courts rather than being anti male and pro lawyers more often and stop the crap grandstanding and machivellian nonsense which makes no sense to the ASD brain – who can ususally run rings round the lawyers in terms of maths and science (serious point as is the rest of this post) having a son on the spectrum I find it annoying the way judges sit in their ivory towers pronouncing white black cause someone kisses their backside.

    2. JamesB says:

      A good example would be how the legal system were only able to get an ASD person for the Libor rate fraud.

      The way they did it disgusts me. He was only prosecuted and found guilty because he was disabled and on his own evidence. Absolutely disgusting. All the other traders involved said nothing. He tried to help the investigation and got stitched up and put in jail.

    3. JamesB says:

      They don’t get the sycophantic posturing subjective Machiavellian non verbal way in which these places act. Based on what it is easier to do rather than which is the right thing to do.

      Another example, not knowing the difference between a rhetorical question and a real question. Not presenting an argument or counter argument which has no basis in fact.

      Another example, losing temper in court and getting angry especially when being wound up and called names. Another example, not knowing what is going on and taking things literally.

      An example of this, Judge saying, I will review the matter in one month’s time. What he or she means is the court will look at this again at its convenience in around a month’s time etc.

    4. JamesB says:

      The posturing and negotiating with them is also difficult. Either is hard as posturing is disregarded and the whole offering B to get A they don’t get. I.e. If you want to settle on £50k you ask for £100k, the ASD person will just say no, rather than offer £25k. Typical ASD negotiation I have seen. Once side asked for 100k, ASD person said no, negotiations went nowhere. The whole offer counter offer things didn’t work.

      I don’t have ASD, but thinking about it I have a lot of sympathy for ASD people as I too have issues with why courts do what they do and that 90 plus percent is nonsense. Like the Wigs. Like a Prayer for ancillary relief, like swearing something is true when it is not, quite a lot doesn’t make sense.

      Best thing a Judge or a court can do is try an remain patient and not lose their temper and keep objective and stop grandstanding. Also court staff tend to be argumentative and feminist and confrontational towards men, and it is mostly a male condition and that doesn’t help also.

    5. JamesB says:

      They can find sitting still, especially when not understanding the words, difficult. Also the dressing and do things like taking jacket off in court and interrupting people at inappropriate time or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Bit like Bill Gates in court, who wasn’t good at it and it is a bit of a pantomime and being an actor is pretty much complete opposite to how ASD people are.

      All this and more courts can get by consulting with British Autistic Society, or, indeed there are many ASD charities in this country, certainly a lot more worthwhile than going to Gingerbread or Women’s Aid for consultations where they normally go.

    6. JamesB says:

      Helps to have decent laws which make sense and are written in plain English also.

      Affidavit? Prayer? Ex Parte? Change the Latin and Greek and dodgy language.

      Stop making some people have to pay court fees and barristers getting hearings and orders without having to apply in writing.

      MCA 1973 dodgy law. CSA 1992 dodgy law. Children’s act dodgy law. 1999 pensions sharing act, dodgy law. Cafcass reports, dodgy law. More certainty in court. including divorce petitions which are made up. Reasons for divorce need reforming. Shared contact needs implementing.

      The thing is where most people shrug shoulders and say bad law will put up with it, ASD people really struggle (is mental health thing) to obey bad law and can end up on the street or locked up – like the City trader I mentioned earlier.

      ASD people have short tempers and can get very angry very quickly and don’t know when to keep quiet and the adversarial and inquisitorial nature of courts mean if in a dispute they are best kept out of court or court changed for them as they cannot help their behaviour. Best they can do is be kept quiet and represented.

      A real issue as I see a lot of homeless people and perhaps there would not be so many if the judges hadn’t taken offense by their unintentional behaviour caused by the way their brains are wired.

      Personally I find ASD people a lot more caring and honest and nice to be around than Judges and Barristers, I say this as they don’t do the baiting posturing and ego games that the Judges and Barristers tend to engage in in court.

      I remember being in court and a barrister warming up with me by getting more and more insulting until I walked off, while we were waiting outside court to go in, in front of cafcass officer. I walked off three times and came back three times. Very strange place. Judge only listening to his professional colleagues speaking different language.

    7. JamesB says:

      The whole not what you say but how you say it thing court can be like doesn’t make sense to ASD people. Bit like being in the Houses of Parliament, so much being said which doesn’t make sense and they don’t understand how or what to do or say.

    8. JamesB says:

      To summarise, ASD people have difficulty dealing with the subjective, unpredictable and duplicitous nature of court which is pretty much 99% of courts time, so it comes down to trying to keep them out of the place or calm and quiet. Perhaps allow them to watch tv while in the court room with head phones and only to answer questions through lawyers in writing in advance. Trying to be fair with an ASD person will mean being unfair to them as the other side (law is adversarial) will only give the good part of their proposal the ASD person will give all good and bad and will then look bad and lose and will be treated unfairly as they won’t put forward the weaknesses of their opponents case unless asked or make them up as will a ‘normalish’ person and therefore their case looks worse then it is.

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