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Interviewing suspects with complex communication needs

Certain procedures should be followed when a person with complex communication needs is interviewed by the Police.

Under the Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) a person has complex communication needs if they have significant difficulty in communicating effectively with the interviewer, whether the communication difficulty is temporary or permanent and whether caused by disability, illness or injury. Intoxication, however, is not defined as a complex communication difficulty [reg 18(2)].

If an investigating officer intends to interview a suspect who they believe may have complex communication needs, the officer must make the following arrangements as relevant:

  • for the suspect to be accompanied during the interview by a person who is a prescribed communication assistant;
  • for the suspect to use, or be provided with, a prescribed communication device for the purposes of the interview.

This is in addition to the requirements of section 74D of the Summary Offences Act 1953(SA) [see Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) reg 19(1)]. See further : Police Questioning and Interviewing.

A prescribed communication assistant is a person who provides communications assistance to suspects or vulnerable witnesses while being interviewed and includes communication partners (see the Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service below) and any other person approved for the purposes of the interview by the interviewer [reg 22(1)] .

A prescribed communicationdevice includes:

  • text, symbol or picture boards;
  • speak-and-spell communication devices;
  • voice output communication devices;
  • tablets, laptops or other computers or devices equipped with software designed to assist persons with complex communication needs to communicate more readily; and
  • any other device, whether electronic or not, as may be approved for the purposes of the interview by the interviewer [reg 22(2)].

While the interviewing officer is obligated to make arrangements for a prescribed communication assistant or device as appropriate, the interview can still go ahead with out the assistant or device if it is not reasonably practicable to have one there (for example, where one is not available), and where the circumstances do not warrant the interview being postponed [reg 19(2)-(3)].

Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service

The Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service is available for lawyers, police and those in the criminal justice system to use when interviewing children or adults with complex communication needs.

The service is run by trained, independent volunteers and can assist victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants charged with any criminal offence.

The on-call service telephone line operates 7 a.m. - 10 p.m, seven days a week. Contact Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service on 1800 615 677 or visit the Uniting Communities website for more information.

Communication partners observe and note communication barriers and recommend strategies and adjustments to the interview and court process in order to enable those with complex communication needs to effectively participate in the interview or legal process.

Communication partners are not advocates, interpreters or support workers, and it is not their role to explain legal matters to clients.

Interviewing suspects with complex communication needs  :  Last Revised: Mon Aug 6th 2018
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.