A recent meta-analysis suggested that the majority of young people in contact with the criminal justice system have cognitive and/or communication impairments. Over the past 20 years, recognition of these complex needs has resulted in support measures being put in place in courtrooms across the globe. It is therefore timely to review evidence for the efficacy of these measures.
This scoping review evaluates evidence on support measures employed to facilitate access to court proceedings for individuals with cognition and communication impairments, and considers how this evidence might inform future research and practice.
Research databases were searched for studies that: directly or indirectly involved a population with a form of functional impairment and/or diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder; and refer to support delivered to remove barriers or support access to courtroom processes.
Searches identified 3,318 distinct articles. Following review, 37 papers were identified for inclusion. The papers were published between 1993 and 2019, with the majority being published since 2010 (n = 23). The majority of papers were from the United Kingdom (n = 26); other countries represented were Australia (n = 1), Canada (n = 3), New Zealand (n = 2), UK papers don’t necessarily state which countries involved (n = 2) Scotland specifically state Scotland only and the United States (n = 3). No papers met the criteria for an experimental research design.
Whilst the high level of need in this population is well established, which support measures are most effective in enabling engagement in court processes is not currently clear. More robust evaluative research is therefore required to establish the most effective methods of support. Despite this lack of evidence regarding outcomes, both young people and professionals generally view support measures favourably. There is an increasing onus on professionals to adapt their practice rather than to support/enhance the cognition and communication skills of young people.