"For when equality if given to unequals, the result is inequality": The socio-legal ethics of vulnerable people

Isabelle Bartkowiak, Anna Corbo Crehan

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In many jurisdictions, categories of ''vulnerable people'' have been created with the intention of addressing the impaired ability of some individuals to defend themselves and pursue their own best interests when involved with the judicial process. The most extensive provisions related to these categories impact on police work, i.e. at people's first point of contact with the criminal justice system. In some cases, the relevant provisions identify a number of mandatory defence and support mechanisms that must be activated - and if such mechanisms are not activated, then evidence may not be admissible at court. This chapter takes as a fundamental premise that current criminal justice practice in relation to vulnerable people is essentially aimed at ensuring equality before the law for these people, consistent with a key aspect of the rule of law. The authors identify a number of ethical issues that arise in this context and assess their specific impacts on the goal of ensuring equality before the law. In particular, attention is paid to ethical matters triggered by the blanket provision of defence and support mechanisms for people who legally belong to a vulnerability category, but who arguably are not as disadvantaged as others in that same category ' and, who may well be considered not vulnerable at all. With this information in hand, consideration will then be given to the impact this has for policing. We question how these ethical issues can addressed and, if not, whether they so undermine the goal of ensuring equality before the law that the whole idea of classifications of vulnerability should be revisited.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPolicing vulnerability
EditorsIsabelle Bartkowiak- Bartkowiak-Theron, Nicole L Asquith
Place of PublicationSydney, Australia
PublisherFederation Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9781862878976
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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