Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Navigating the Accessibility Divide in Justice, Digitalisation and AI Initiatives – News Series

By Krisztina Tóth 30th May 2024


Over this year, Validity will initiate a news series on the application of digitalisation and AI series in the justice system. These will lay out important right-based considerations to guide the potential integration of these systems in a manner that protects and promotes the rights of persons with disabilities. 

The digitalisation of the criminal justice system affects the rights of people with disabilities. Digitalisation includes digital case management systems, digital case files, remote hearings through video-link and remote support through live chat and instant messaging.  

Case management systems and digital case files have the potential to facilitate information sharing between the judiciary and police authorities. It promotes efficiency and collaboration throughout different stages of proceedings. Information sharing may support in accommodating diverse communication means of persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, such digitalisation tools are not without risk. For example, they expose individuals to unwarranted disclosure of disability status to others and other intrusions on privacy. Also, they can be discriminatory if not appropriately handled. These matters are being further analysed in our LINK project. 

Remote hearings or video conferencing devices, depending on their application, might be either a helpful procedural accommodation for persons with disabilities or another tool of exclusion. They may contribute to the exercise of their right to legal capacity since participation from home reduces concerns about having their needs met in court and allows a family member to sit alongside them. On the other hand, if the audio or video equipment is not properly maintained and adjusted, persons with disabilities are not able to follow or hear proceedings via video-link. We have encountered such situations in our ENABLE project. 

Remote support, such as live chat or instant messaging, may also be beneficial to those who are unable to physically move to a support service to ask for help or make physical contact with someone due to potential health risks (such as risk of transmission of COVID-19). There are women and children with disabilities who reside in institutions that do not have access to support to report violence that occurs in it due to dependence on perpetrators, as we are uncovering in the DIS-CONNECTED project. To ensure accessibility, these systems must be one of several ways for a person to access proceedings or support. Many people with disabilities, particularly those in institutional settings, may not have access to the necessary technology or digital education to be able to use these services, as we are uncovering in the CHARM for Victims project. 

Lessons for Justice, Digitalisation and AI Initiatives 

Digital and AI systems have undeniable potential to transform the operation of justice and support systems. For this transformation to lead to inclusion of persons with disabilities, there needs to be meaningful participation and co-production of these systems with persons with disabilities and representative organisations based on a strong human rights-based framework in all steps of development, validation and implementation. 

With the Council of the European Union approval of the EU AI Act, the EU will have important regulations to ensure accountability, governance, and protection against fundamental rights violations due to the use of AI systems. The work however to protect the human rights of persons with disabilities is far from over. The risk-based approach used in this legislation lacks a robust rights-based approach to influence policy on the scope and legitimate applications of AI systems for accessibility in the justice system. The challenges and opportunities of these tools and systems are detailed in our submission to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Application of Digital Technologies in the Administration of Justice on March 9, 2024. These will be further expanded upon in our future news series. 

Author: Bruno Monteiro,