There are many degrees of intellectual disability. The definitions and accepted diagnostic test for determining whether or not a person has an intellectual disability are explained along with key legislation. It is vital that each person’s case be assessed individually, and that the views of the person who has an intellectual disability always be sought, taken into account and, wherever possible, acted upon. All people with Autism Spectrum Disorders can now be considered for disability services.

The criminal justice system and people with an intellectual disability

Last updated

30 June 2019

The criminal justice system is not geared to dealing with people who have an intellectual disability. For this and other reasons, crimes against or by people with an intellectual disability may often go unreported. 

Police may also be reluctant to charge or prosecute offences against a person who has an intellectual disability, or perpetrated by a person with such a disability, because of concerns about the reliability of witnesses or issues to do with the person’s capacity to form criminal intent.

Victoria Police now has Disability Portfolio Reference Group that provides input on police officer’s interactions with people with disability. Where a person with a disability is being abused, a complaint should be made to Victoria Police; however, the police seem reluctant to take any action in these cases.

Also, within some organisations, there may be an ‘institutional culture’, which views problems occurring within that facility as requiring resolution internally rather than by the justice system.

The issues and procedures relating to people who have an intellectual disability who become involved with the criminal justice system are discussed in Chapter 8.3: Disability and criminal justice.

Also see Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service’s publication, People with Acquired Brain Injury and the Victorian Justice System: Rights and Resources, published by Inkshed Press.

Taking instructions from clients

See ‘Taking instructions from clients who have cog­nitive impairment’ in Chapter 8.1: Understanding disability and the law, and Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service’s publication, People Who Have an Intellectual Disability and the Criminal Justice System. 

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Disability, mental illness and the law