The Ministry of Justice is telling people with learning difficulties that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent

31st January 2015

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.

 

UPDATE

A MoJ spokesperson said this afternoon:

“Easy read guides are an important way of providing information to people in simple and straightforward language. It is crucial to ensure these documents are precise and as helpful as possible.
 
“We are reviewing this guide and will remove it from our website while this process takes place.”
 

I was also told in response to my specific questions:

Q: Why has the MoJ not withdrawn this document?

A: The document will come down from the website today so we can review it.

 

Q: Who at the MoJ approved this Easy Read for publication?  and Why was this not properly checked by anyone before publication?

A: As part of the review we will look at how and why it was published.

 

[1st February 2015, the above is covered by the Observer.]

 

 

Hat-tip to Mukul Chawla QC for spotting this.

 

 

16 thoughts on “The Ministry of Justice is telling people with learning difficulties that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent”

  1. This is typical of our justice system, surely it is the duty of the Barrister to inform the defendant be they have learning difficulties or not that they are innocent until proven guilty, then they can begin to barter your future in the robing room, which is sadly, more often than not, the case

  2. The BBC licence fee court is a sham also as when I showed up there were over 100 called but only 5 turned up,on the wall it said that if you do not attend you would be guilty…if they had all turned up then the court would not have been able to process them all… these people are the damned,I hate them.

  3. It is 1984 compliant-Ministry of Truth style!! The whole notion of a minsitry of justice is an abhorrent muddle perpetrated by people who have no idea what they did and cannot fathom why their management speak obscures justice.

  4. “someone without legal qualifications proofread it”
    I understand that the Lord Chancellor himself reads all documents himself to avoid …. oh, as you were!

    1. Perhaps these are the training documents that they’ve been using to improve the Lord Chancellors knowledge of the law to help him in his job?

  5. That said, it is actually correct; if a cop has decided that you are guilty of something, you do indeed have to prove that you’re not guilty.
    I’m sure that the notion of “innocent until proved guilty” is very comforting to many people, but it has little bearing on how the justice system actually works.

    1. I’m afraid you’re wrong, Lionel. The defendant can remain silent if they they like, and present no case whatsoever, and still be found innocent.

  6. I had a look at the version that you have to search gov.uk for and I have to admit, if I were less mentally organised, I would have thought that you had to have a muslim woman to represent you. I realise that there are people calling for racial equality, but the use of an image of a woman in a hijab with an arrow titled “Solicitor” made me think that all women in hijabs were solicitors!

    The thing with the burden of proof is, as rightly stated, seems weird when you see defendants having “second go” in court. This is because the prosecution has the burden, not the defendant.

    The caption should have read: “If you say that you did not do the crime, you may have to go to court and attend a trial. At this trial the prosecuting team have to prove you did the crime and your solicitor then has a chance to show that you did not.”

  7. This reminds me of the egregious, and current case, of the man recently granted his freedom, after being imprisoned for God-knows-how-long, since new DNA-tests have completely exonerated him: It was someone else’s DNA, their crime! Grayling’s crime: Chris won’t compensate this wronged man until HE, himself proves himself – incontovertably – innocent …! The Burden Of (?).

  8. I don’t think that the sentence “If you say that you did not do the crime, you may have to go back to the Court on a different day, to show the Court you did not do the crime” is particularly easy to understand anyway. If the client has dyslexia-like symptoms, or even just English as a second language, all those ‘nots’ could get very muddled up.

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