Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which encompasses Asperger’s Syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Autism is also a spectrum condition meaning that the level of impairment ranges from being highly ‘visible’ to the casual observer to unnoticeable. Whether autism is ‘visible’ or not, autism always affects the way in which a person relates to and communicates with other people and experiences the world around them.
There is no correlation between autism and IQ, but autism can occur alongside learning disabilities, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia or hyperlexia. An Advocate who is trained and experienced in this field can help solicitors identify and communicate with clients whom the solicitor may suspect are autistic. A specialist Advocate also has the vital skills and experience to cross-examine autistic and/or otherwise vulnerable prosecution witnesses without alienating the jury.
How the PDS can help
- Autistic clients benefit from representation by an Advocate who understands autistic communication. It eases the stress of the court process for the client and enables the Advocate to obtain the best possible instructions.
- A non-specialist Advocate may not be able to identify the signs of distress or difficulty in a client who appears to function well. They may also lack the skills to adapt to their communication to meet the client’s needs. This can cause diverse, time-consuming and/or costly problems for instructing solicitors.
- The above also applies in cases where the prosecution seeks to rely on the evidence of an autistic witness. Cross examining such witnesses effectively requires very particular skills.
- An Advocate who is familiar with academic research into autism can be alive to potential defences or mitigation not known to non-specialist Advocates.
- A specialist Advocate is also able to draft advices that target autism-specific issues in the case. In this way, funding for expert reports can be secured and key issues communicated to the client.
- Precise advices also mean that expert reports are more relevant and thorough, minimising the need for addendum reports.
- An Advocate who is trained and experienced in this field can help your firm manage client-level risk by working closely with the solicitor and client during the case.
- Autistic clients can become obsessed with tiny details of their case. An Advocate without appropriate experience and understanding will often attempt to bring the discussion ‘back on track’. This means that the instructions given could be misunderstood or incomplete and professional embarrassment and/or a complaint may follow.
Charlotte Surley is the PDS lead in this field. She will provide advice, guidance and representation in cases where a client may be autistic or the prosecution intends to rely upon the evidence of an autistic or otherwise vulnerable witness. To enquire about the availability of our Advocates and to instruct us, please call our Senior Clerk, Robin Driscoll, on 020 3334 4253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.