When You Can’t Communicate in Court
If you have been involved in a legal battle, you will know how stressful the process can be. Imagine that you can’t communicate in court or within another legal process (e.g. a police interrogation). Imagine being unable to understand the questions that are asked due to a stroke or brain injury. Now, imagine that you understand and know what you’d like to say and are unable to speak clearly or unable to find the words to express yourself. Maybe you were born with cerebral palsy and can’t communicate clearly or that you use a device to communicate. Imagine that others assume that you can’t communicate in court and aren’t competent to testify on your own behalf, or that you are not able to provide evidence explaining how you were wronged by another person. These scenarios sadly represent what people with developmental or acquired speech and language difficulties can face in a court of law. Involvement in the court system highlights the importance of clear communication for defendants, plaintiffs, and witnesses.
PAUL CAN’T COMMUNICATE IN COURT: A CASE EXAMPLE
(Please note the details of this case have been changed to protect the identity of the client who was struggling to communicate in court and in the court system)
Paul suffered a stroke as a result of surgery following an automobile accident. He was not at fault, but he can’t communicate in court about what happened in the accident. There were no eye witnesses, other than Paul and the driver of the other car. The other driver’s story conflicted with what Paul remembers. The problem is that Paul’s ability to communicate in court is hampered by his stroke-related communication problems. Paul already has a Speech-Language Pathologist, but she is considered biased and therefore cannot be asked to assist in the legal process.
We were called in to assess what services were needed in order for Paul to communicate in court effectively. Afterward, our services were provided to assist Paul in communicating with police, legal representatives, and eventually before a judge. It was determined that Paul needed written key words to help him understand the questions asked by the lawyers. Furthermore, Paul needed to be provided with written choices to allow him to respond. These tools needed to be approved by the lawyers on both sides before he gave his testimony. The use of an Intermediary was helpful for Paul and he was able to communicate in court, providing his evidence with the help recommended and provided by the intermediary. As intermediary within this dispute, we were able to assist Paul in the courtroom, following strict the guidelines laid out by the Communication Disability Access Canada (CDAC). CDAC supports people across Canada who can’t communication in court and within other areas of the justice system. More on that below…
HOW DID THE JUSTICE SYSTEM HELP PAUL COMMUNICATE IN COURT?
In the last couple of years, CDAC has made the process of participating in the justice system more accessible for Canadians who can’t communicate effectively. Through the help of trained intermediaries, identified plaintiffs or defendants are provided with an assessment and intermediary services if needed. The intermediary provides unbiased assistance to ensure that a person who has trouble to communicate in court or within other parts of the justice system can understand and be understood effectively. Please visit the CDAC website for more information. The Communication Intermediary Roster contains a list of intermediaries that have completed the necessary training (including those at our agency).
Bobi Tychynski Shimoda is a Speech-Language Pathologist with more than a decade of experience working with neurological communication and swallowing disorders. She has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient rehab, acute care, community, and private practise. She is highly skilled in assessment, and innovative treatment approaches.