Many suspects and accused persons have intellectual or psychosocial impairments that, unlike age and physical illness, are not always visible, thus may remain unnoticed or misinterpreted. The failure to identify, at the very beginning of the criminal proceedings, the specific vulnerabilities of suspects or accused people with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities, and to communicate to them in an understandable way, might seriously harm their rights and at the same time might deprive first-line officers from making informed decisions about different aspects of the cases from coping crises to understanding motives. Practitioners from criminal justice authorities need to have at their disposal adequate tools to identify such persons, be aware of their special needs and have the capacity to implement the appropriate measures to ensure they are treated equally to all other suspects.
On 24 November, 2020, the Center for the Study of Democracy, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior Academy, held the seminar on Suspects and accused persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities: identification, communication and respecting their rights. A total of fifteen police inspectors and detectives took part in the event.
Dimitar Markov, Director of Law Program in the Center for the Study of Democracy, opened the seminar with a brief introduction to issue for effective and equal participation of individuals with psychosocial and intellectual impairments into the criminal proceeding, and the protection of their rights. He presented the main objectives and outcomes of the project OPSIDIANET (Offenders with Psycho-Social and Intellectual Disabilities: Identification, Assessment of Needs and Equal Treatment). A special focus was put on the publications that were presented and disseminated among the participants – a Manual for “Suspects and Accused Persons with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities: Identification and Communication” and a report titled “Vulnerable Offenders: The Rights of Suspects and Accused with Psychosocial and Intellectual Disabilities”.
The seminar continued with a presentation by Maria Doichinova, focused on the main features of the online self-educational platform - OPSIDIAtrain, developed under the OPSIDIANET project.
During the event, the participants discussed and asked questions, shared their opinion and relevant examples of their professional experience in the area. Generally, they noted the existing good practices in Bulgaria in relation to the issues addressed by the initiative, but also recognized that there is room for further improvement.