Neurodiversity (ND) refers to neurological variations in the way the human brain functions. Neurodivergent people may have received a medical diagnosis of autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, Tourette Syndrome, Acquired Brain Injury or similar.
A person who is not neurodivergent would be described as neurotypical (NT).
Is neurodivergence a disability?
People who are neurodivergent may have a condition to which s4 Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964 and the Pritchard criteria apply. Neurodivergence may also be relevant to full and partial defences such as insanity, diminished responsibility or duress and to the mens rea of certain offences.
However, there is no direct correlation between neurodivergence and learning disability. Indeed, some ND people have particular abilities such as hyper-focus (intense mental concentration on a topic or task) or three-dimensional thinking (the ability simultaneously to consider multiple standpoints using a variety of data types). This means that ND people often have an uneven profile of abilities and deficits.
What does the PDS do for neurodivergent clients?
The PDS is committed to providing early case conferences and continued advice which are particularly important for clients where neurodivergence may be suspected or diagnosed.
Solicitors from each of our offices, as well as Stephen Leslie QC from our Advocacy Team, have attended training run by the National Autistic Society which focussed on understanding and supporting autistic clients. This ensures that advices written for the purposes of obtaining an expert report are specific, thorough and incisive.
All of our advocates have also completed the Advocacy and the Vulnerable (Crime) training.
We are also alert to the need for intermediaries in certain cases and, where appropriate, will apply for a defendant’s evidence direction. Our advocates understand that the absence of a learning disability or the presence of particular abilities does not mean that the ability to form the relevant mens rea is inevitably present.
Each of our offices has a nominated member of staff who has received autism awareness training as well as specific training focussing on answering enquiries from, or relating to, autistic potential clients. We also endeavour to hold case conferences at a venue that is appropriate for the particular needs of the client.
Charlotte Surley is the Higher Courts Advocate with responsibility for leading PDS projects in relation to autism and neurodivergence. She specialises in representing vulnerable and neurodivergent defendants as well as those charged with serious sexual offences. Charlotte has also attended two conferences run by the National Autistic Society: ‘Women and Girls on the Autism Spectrum’ and ‘Offenders with an intellectual and/or Developmental Disability (18th Annual Conference)’, disseminating this learning to her colleagues.