Survey Results & Recommendations on Enhancing Access to Justice for People with Disabilities in Nigeria
In July 2014, the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities in Lagos, Nigeria published a report about a pilot project on Enhancing Access to Justice for People Living with Disabilities (PWDs). The project focused on 3 areas within Lagos state where a survey of 292 PWDs was conducted. Below you can find the results and recommendations on how law enforcement, legal aid, the court, and others can improve their efforts when working with people with disabilities.
Three Focus Group Discussions (one in each of the Local Government Areas -LGAs) were conducted with PWDs. Visits were made to 15 Police posts within the LGAs; Interviewee’s were made up of police inspectors, human rights officers and public relation officers. Information was also gotten from the 3 Citizens Mediation Centres within the LGAs. A total of 12 Customary and Magistrate courts where visited in the 3 LGAs with respondents including Chief Magistrates, High Magistrates, Magistrates, Senior Registrars, Court Registrars, Clerks and a Lawyer .
Characteristics of the PWD: The study shows that 39 (13.4%) of the respondents were blind, 50 (17.1%) deaf, 194 (66.4%) physically challenged, 1 intellectually challenged and eight (2.7%) of the respondents had other forms of disabilities. It further shows that 44 (15.1%) of the respondents’ disabilities were from birth, 92 (31.5%) became disabled as a result of accidents while 132 (45.2%) of the respondents’ disabilities were caused by diseases.
Common Legal Concerns: The study shows that 32 (11%) of the respondents experienced theft or robbery; 45 (15.4%) experienced physical assault; four (1.4%) experienced sexual assault; and 54 (18.5%) were victims of dehumanizing comments or verbal assault in the last 12 months preceding the study. Furthermore, 74 (25.3%) of the respondents experienced discrimination, 13 (4.5%); experienced restricted movement, seven (2.4%) were denied freedom of association while 3 (1%) experienced disenfranchisement during the period under review.
Reporting to Police: Among the respondents who experienced victimization only 21 (14%) reported to the Police while the majority 110 (73.3%) did not report to the Police. Among those that did not report to the Police, some of the reasons the respondents gave as to why they did not report to the Police include the belief that they had no one to report to (23 of the respondents); the feeling that it is not worth the trouble (26 of the respondents); the notion that they (the PWDs) were responsible for their victimization (three of the respondents); the fear that the case would not be properly handled (11 of the respondents); and the feeling that they could not afford reporting the incident (nine of the respondents).
How PWDs Resolved Legal Issues: The study shows that 12 (40%) of the respondents used the Police to resolve their legal problems; two (6.7%) used the Court to resolve their legal problems; three (ten percent) used the Traditional institutions to resolve their legal problems while four (13.3%) of the respondents used Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms to resolve their legal problems.
Satisfaction: The study shows that 19 (63.3%) of the respondents were satisfied with the way the legal problems were resolved while five (16.7%) of the respondents were not satisfied with the resolution of the legal problems. Close to half (46.7%) of the respondents believed that their disability affected the outcome of the resolution while nine (30%) of the respondents believed that their disability did not affect the outcome of the resolution.
Findings from PWDs Interaction with the Justice System
- The study shows that some of the challenges for those that used the Police is structural or infrastructural challenges and the negative attitude of police officers towards People with Disabilities.
- For users of the Law Courts, the majority identified financial challenges as a major hindrance. structural or infrastructural challenges and the negative attitude of legal officers towards People with Disabilities were other challenges mentioned.
- For users of the traditional systems, access to the traditional systems and structural or infrastructural challenges were identified as the main challenges.
- For the respondents who turned to alternative dispute resolution avenues, structural or infrastructural challenges, communication challenges, financial challenges, religious beliefs and lack of authority by the institution were mentioned as the challenges with such paths to justice.
- The study shows that the Police has the lowest rating in terms of the quality of the procedures and quality of outcomes, and the highest rating in terms of the cost of obtaining justice. Next in respect of quality of procedures and outcomes is the Court. ADR mechanisms were rated highest for quality of procedure and quality of outcomes respectively. In addition, the cost of obtaining justice using ADR is lower than the cost of obtaining justice through the Police or the Courts.
Engagement with the Police
- There is a misconception by the police hierarchy in Lagos State on the essence of the research which led to denial of permission to interview DPOs in the 3 LGAs.
- Police Stations in all 3 LGAs visited were not constructed with the disabled persons in mind and have not been modified for ease of access for PWDs.
- There were was an absence of data on persons with disabilities, disability desk officers and disability trained personnel in all three LGAs. The closest official is the human rights officer. There also exists no policy documents/working papers to guide their engagement with PWDs.
- In police stations visited, there is no provision for a sign language interpreter for the deaf and access to information to the blind is limited. The blind are requested to make an oral statement, while the deaf are asked to write their statement on their own. If they cannot write, they wait for an interpreter or family member to assist a deaf complainant.
- PWDs often experience discriminatory attitudes from the Police. The general perception that police officers and men are corrupt and not trustworthy also stand as a major hindrance to accessing justice by PWDs.
- The most frequently used path to justice among PWDs is the Police due to the high level of accessibility of the institution.
Engagement with the Court
- There is an absence of ramps on court premises and courts housed in storey buildings make it difficult for PWDs to gain access to Court. Court officials interpret ‘access’ largely as the court being in a public location which “everyone” can come to.
- There is an absence of data on persons with disabilities and disability trained court officials in the 3 selected LGAs. As a result court officials interact with disabled persons in an ad hoc manner and on the discretion of the Magistrate or the President of the Customary Court in the absence of a laid down policy on engaging with PWDs.
- There is an absence of court appointed sign language interpreters in the 3 LGAs and deaf persons had to come with their own interpreters and also no materials in Braille for the blind.
- There is a misconception on who a person with disability is among court officials and the kind of support needed to assist participation in the court process. The study documented discriminatory attitudes of Court officials towards PWDs.
Engagement with Legal Aid Providers
There are difficulties in accessing the building and no provision for interpreters; thus, PWDs have to come with their interpreters for the mediation to take place. Observations show that they lack a disability desk officer or specialist.
Engagement with Civil Society Organizations
CSOs have approached disability issues purely from a medical and charity standpoint as opposed to treating it as a right issue. They understand access in regards to their office being physically accessible to disabled persons.
There is a large void that needs to be filled and this will require sensitisation of CSOs with the end result of disability rights being mainstreamed into the activities and programs of human rights and development organisations.
They have no knowledge of the Lagos State Special Persons Law and its provisions as a result they are not in a position to protect and promote the rights of PWDs.
- The Federal government (Ministry of Police Affair and the Inspector General of Police) should be sensitized on the need to strengthen the capacity of the Police to make justice accessible to PWDs through the provision of access ramps, the training of Police officers on disability rights and the use of sign language for effective communication with the deaf.
- The Federal government (Federal Ministry of Justice/Chief Judge of the Federation), the State Chief Judge, and the State Judicial Commission should be sensitized on the need to strengthen the capacity of courts and court personnel to make justice accessible to PWDs through the provision of access ramps, assistive devices and the training of court officials in the use of sign language.
- Greater awareness should be created among PWDs on disability rights and the Multi-door court (an ADR mechanism in Lagos state). This will ensure that more PWDs choose this low cost, but highly effective path to justice.
- Police officers and court officials should be re-orientated on the rights of PWDs and the ills of discrimination against PWDs.
- Legal Aid Organisations and Civil Society Organisations working on human rights and access to justice should be sensitized on disability rights and access to justice for persons with disabilities.