On 15 December 2020, CSD hosted an international e-conference on the rights of people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in criminal proceedings. The event brought together EU-wide experts and practitioners in the area, who gave presentations on various aspects of the situation of suspects and accused with such impairments, presented some innovative tools aimed at helping first line practitioners to better communicate with such persons, and had a discussion on various relevant issues raised by the attendees.

The conference was opened by Dr Maria Yordanova, Senior Fellow of Law Program at the Center for the Study of Democracy, who welcomed the speakers and all attendees to the conference. Dimitar Markov, Director of Law Program, continued with presenting the concept, main goals and outcomes of the international initiative called OPSIDIANET (Offenders with Psycho-Social and Intellectual Disabilities: Identification, Assessment of Needs and Equal Treatment).

A number of experts from several European countries presented the international legal framework of the rights of people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, examples from national criminal justice systems, good practices and valuable findings from previous studies in the area.

Delyana Doseva, attorney-at-law from Bulgaria, gave an overview of the meaning behind the terms “intellectual and psychosocial disabilities” and their possible impact on the criminal proceedings, presented the main international and European human rights treaties and then focused on the legal status and procedural rules applicable to offenders with intellectual disabilities in Bulgaria. The topic of the international legal framework was further elaborated by the next speaker, Dr Maria Mousmouti, Executive Director of the Center for European and Constitutional Law in Greece, who also shed light on the various societal, legal and financial barriers affecting the equal treatment of disabled people in criminal proceedings, and suggested concrete solutions. Then, Nora Katona, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights, presented the findings of a previous study conducted under the Dignity at Trial project, in order to extend the list of possible solutions to some of the widespread problems in the area. The first session of the event ended with a lively discussion among the speakers and the attendees.

During the afternoon session of the conference, Jenny Talbot, from the Care not Custody at the Prison Reform Trust in UK, focused on the main challenges met by people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in the criminal courts. Ms Talbot’s presentation revealed the most common barriers for effective communication with such offenders, and emphasized the role of intermediaries for facilitating the interaction between the justice system personnel and disabled persons during the legal proceedings. Building on that, Kalina Ivanova, from the Global Initiative on Psychiatry – Sofia, presented the need for developing principles for fair court proceedings for people with disabilities and suggested a way forward. Dimitar Markov and Maria Doichinova, Center for the Study of Democracy, continued with a demonstration of the major products developed under the OPSIDIANET initiative – a Manual for “Suspects and Accused Persons with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities: Identification and Communication” and the online self-educational platform – OPSIDIAtrain. The last two presentations by Nicola Giovannini, President of Droit au Droit International, and Dr Susanna Ficco Regina, Social Service Officer at the Italian Ministry of Justice, gave an overview of the situation in the national context in Belgium and Italy. Mr Giovannini touched upon the national legal framework establishing the rights of disabled persons in Belgium and highlighted some of the existing shortcomings in their fulfillment. Finally, Dr Ficco Regina stressed the role of public social services for enhancing justice and to guarantee the social and health rights of offenders and defendants with intellectual disabilities, with a special focus on Italy.

Dimitar Markov concluded the conference with a thankful speech to the speakers and the numerous attendees who joined the online event.