Having to recount an incident or enter a plea in court can be very overwhelming for anyone, but especially if, like someone living with FASD, you have trouble with your memory and comprehension. Although different courtrooms look different in size and cosmetic appearance they follow the basic principles of respect and tradition. Understanding these traditions and respecting the court’s authority can be a confusing process without proper support. Be sure to work with a client on some of the basic courtroom manners expected of them when they appear in court.
Understand that each client is different and these instructions are only a starting point.
Practice with your client where they will stand in the courtroom and how they will give their statement, especially for trial court or sentencing. Advocate for the client by explaining the correlation between poor memory functioning and FASD. Ask the courts to allow the client an opportunity to read a statement they wrote and deliver it to the courtroom. By asking the courts to allow the client to read their statement you are advocating on behalf of their disability, and allowing fewer opportunities for the client to confabulate, forget or change their original statement.
Work with your client to understand some of the normal social cues displayed in the courtroom. This may mean giving the client some practice hearing normal courtroom instruction like “please take your seat”, means go sit down. “Crown” is the lawyer that represents the province or the country.
Individuals living with FASD often have trouble reading body language and confuse typical gestures used to tell someone they have done a good job or should stop what they are doing. Be sure the client understands they should look at you if they are confused, and you will try to interpret. Practice a nod or a shake of the head, for when the client is confused and only needs a simple direction.
Taking the time to work with a client who may require extra time to comprehend or process instructions can be difficult due to time constraints and heavy workloads. However, the time you take to work with the client will lessen their anxiety of what is to come and better prepare them to be a participating member of their defense.
FASD is becoming more and more recognized in courtrooms all across Canada. With more understanding of the disability by all parties involved in the courtroom process clients are better able to work with their strengths and present themselves and their disability in a way that is better accommodated during the trial and sentencing process.
Do it yourself