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Autism, Police and the Criminal Justice System – part 1


This article concerns one autistic person’s unfortunate involvement with the criminal justice system.  Prior to its release we have heard anecdotal stories from a number of sources on this subject both from people with and without autism.  We feel it’s in the public interest for this story to be made common knowledge.  In this first part of a series of articles we want to provide some brief tips and advice if you are unlucky enough to be visited and even arrested by the police.  It is not an exhaustive list and you’re welcome to add your own tips in the comments section.

  • Try to record the police in your home. It is not illegal to record police in your home. If the police have a warrant to enter your property make sure you record what they say on a recording device. There are plenty of devices available which will carry out this task for you.  We don’t want to list them because we know if the police notice them they may try to terminate the recording.  This is important as it can be used in evidence if you feel any officers are misbehaving.
  • The law recognises autistic people as vulnerable.  If an autistic person is arrested then that person is entitled to have an appropriate adult present during a police interview.  If the police tell anyone that an autistic person does not need an appropriate adult present do not believe them.  Autistic people are entitled to both an appropriate adult and a solicitor.
  • You are entitled to a free solicitor. Do not let anything the police state put you off obtaining a free solicitor when they offer one. Duty solicitors will arrive no later than 40 minutes after the request has been made (otherwise they lose their contract).  If the police say the solicitor will be at least an hour do not believe them!
  • Having a solicitor present in no way implies guilt on part of the suspect. Indeed unofficially the solicitor also acts as a witness of events which as you will note from my next point why that is so important.
  • Do not trust the tapes will contain an accurate recording of the interview. We know of a case in which a person with autism was interviewed with an appropriate adult present. They listened to the tape and found portions of the recording missing. Indeed these were the same portions that they complained to the PSD about months earlier.  There has also been a strange reluctance in the initial investigation by the PSD to arrange for the Judge’s copy of the tape unsealed with a Judge / Justice of the Peace present.  This matter is currently being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

In a tape-recorded interview the recording system generates two identical copies of the interview at a time.  One of those is sealed with your signature on the seal.  The seal can only be broken with a judge or justice of the peace present.  The other tape is known as the ‘working copy’ tape which the police use.

Never trust the police copy (known as the ‘working copy’) tape.  This is the same copy the police let the Crown Prosecution Service listen to in order to decide if there is a reasonable chance of prosecution.  Indeed if you were taken to court and you know the interview recording may have been tampered with this not only works in your defence but may also lead to criminal prosecution of the person responsible and they may face a fine or prison sentence (or both).

If you are reading this article from outside England you may need to check the legalities which apply to your country.


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