by Ramon Oladimeji
People living with disabilities have called on policymakers in the judiciary to put structures in place that will ensure their equal access to justice as provided for by the Constitution.
This call came on the heels of a survey by the Centre for Citizens with Disability which revealed that PWDs were still largely marginilised in terms of access to justice.
Lack of enabling infrastructure, poverty and wrong disposition of law enforcement agents were identified as the major factors hindering the PWDs’ access to justice.
The survey which was conducted between January and February this year captured the experiences of 300 PWDs across three senatorial districts in Lagos State.
It was carried out in Surulere, Amuwo-Odofin and Ikorodu areas of Lagos State.
It was revealed that though the PWDs accounted for an estimated 2.3 per cent of the nation’s population, their needs were not accommodated in the policies and structures of most of the justice administration agencies.
According to the survey, the police station is the most popular avenue for complaints among the PWDs, yet they do not have definite structures on ground to cater for the peculiarities of the PWDs.
The survey stated that, for instance, in both the police stations and the courts there were no ramps for persons using wheel chairs and there were no sign language interpreters.
It was also revealed that the police stations and the courts did not have dedicated or specific desk officers with specific trainings on how to deal with the PWDs.
The survey further revealed that the PWDs were treated based on the whims of the police officer or court officials on ground.
According to the survey, PWDs are still largely discriminated against by police officers and court officials as they were not viewed to be captured in the concept of justice for all.
Speaking at the presentation of the survey report last week Thursday, the Executive Director of the CCD, Mr. David Anyaele, lamented that though the Constitution recognised the rights of all citizens, the PWDs had been greatly maginalised.
Anyaele, who noted that being a PWD is not a choice but a creation of circumstances, urged policy makers to pay attention to the need of the PWDs because “any wholesome person today could become disable in the future.”
He said, “Persons with disabilities are not left out of the provision on access to justice, yet they continue to face barriers which hinder their full and effective access to justice on equal basis with others.
“As a result of disability, PWDs are more susceptible and exposed to violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
“It is our hope that these findings from our survey, which we will begin to share with key justice sector actors in Lagos State and at the national level, will influence the laws, policies and programs of government in relation to access to justice with the end result that the needs and peculiarities of the PWDs are recogised and adequately catered for by the justice system and that every person with disability in Lagos State can efffectively access the justice system with minimal obstacles.”
According to the CCD, the survey has revealed important areas of need, including the training of police officers and court officials on the specific rights of th PWDs and in the use of sign language.
The Ministries of Police Affairs and the Ministry of Justice are also urged to strengthen their jurisdictions through the introduction of ramps as parts of the police station and court structures.
Legal aid organisations and civil society groups are also urged to pay attention to the rights of the PWDs.