The Scottish police caution: do individuals with intellectual disabilities understand a verbally presented police caution, and can comprehension be improved?

Researchers at Edinburgh University recently published the above report on the accessibility of the police caution in Scotland.  The research was carried out with a sample of adults with learning disabilities, all of whom had no previous contact with the police, and therefore had not previously experienced the caution.  The report acknowledges that the sample was a relatively small one, and that the results should consequently be treated with a degree of cautiousness.  However, the results are quite striking, and should serve as further warning about the accessibility of the justice system in its entirety.

The report makes several observations about the police caution that present particular challenges for people with learning disabilities:

Receiving verbal information stretches a person’s cognitive ability more than written

The caution is relatively long and contains a lot of information

Information about a person waiving their rights is usually at the beginning.  To make an informed choice, the person has to be able to retain this information whilst continuing to digest more

The language used is often very complex and particular to use in a legal context

The question asked to clarify a person has understood is closed, requiring a yes/no answer.  This creates an increased risk of acquiescence

The report concludes that people with learning disabilities have great difficulty understanding the police caution in its current form, and with retaining the information.  And that significant work is required if people are not to be disadvantaged in the justice system.

A copy of the report and an easy read summary can be obtained by clicking the following links:

Caution Study

Easy-Read, Scottish Police Caution


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