Access to justice is a basic principle of human rights, and yet barriers exist at all stages of the justice system that compound disadvantage experienced by people with disability. In spite of all the legislation and policies in place, support and accommodations for those with disability are either not provided or not identified in the first place. Given that at least half of all people in prisons in Australia have a psychosocial, cognitive or physical impairment, this represents a significant social issue for the community.

There is often a lack of appropriate procedural support when people with disability first come into contact with the justice system, particularly those with complex needs or communication challenges. Erroneous assessments are frequently made about the legal competence and credibility of people with disability. Prison staff can be ill equipped to interact with people with disability. As a result, staff often respond with punitive practices, like solitary confinement, rather than support measures.

The Australian Human Rights Commission, along with many other organisations, has long called for strategies to be implemented to address these issues. Commissioner McEwin's presentation will explore some of these strategies that can result in a "smarter" justice system and prevent people with disability being denied justice.

Mr Alastair McEwin
Australian Human Rights Commission
Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Biography: Alastair McEwin has been Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner since 2016.

Alastair’s educational background is in arts, law and business administration. Following his undergraduate studies in Adelaide, he spent time in Vancouver, Canada, pursuing postgraduate studies. Prior to moving to Sydney to commence as a consultant with Accenture, a global management and IT consulting company, he worked as Associate to the Hon. Justice John von Doussa at the Federal Court. Alastair has a strong background in working with non-profit organisations. He was the Executive Director of Community Legal Centres NSW, the peak body for Community Legal Centres in NSW. Other roles include CEO of People with Disability Australia and Manager of the Australian Centre for Disability Law.

Prior to commencing in his current role, he was the Chairperson of the NSW Disability Council, the official advisory board to the NSW Government on disability issues. He was also the President of the Deaf Society of NSW and Chairperson of the Australian Theatre of the Deaf. He has also been the coordinator of the World Federation of the Deaf Expert Group on Human Rights and an adjunct lecturer for the Masters of Community Management degree at the University of Technology Sydney.

Back to all abstracts