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:
“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Q: Why has the MoJ not withdrawn this document?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.