British Sign Language - national plan: progress report

A progress report on the British Sign Language (BSL) national plan.

12. Justice

12.1 Progress in Justice

The Scottish Government recognises that BSL users must have the same access and support within the legal and justice system as other citizens, and the National Plan includes a number of key actions aimed at achieving this goal.

It's important that the experience, views and aspirations of D/deaf people and BSL users are taken into consideration, and applied to future policy. Perhaps the most important development in this area has been the establishment of a BSL-led justice advisory group, which will inform and influence decisions and actions on the use of the language within the legal system.

Some major achievements since the launch of the National Plan in 2017 include:

  • The setting up of the BSL Justice Advisory Group (BSLJAG), which brings together twelve different organisations. This Group will provide guidance and deliver feedback from the BSL community to justice and legal agencies as we build on existing services and introduce new measures.
  • The BSLJAG met for the first time in February 2020, and while the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered further work, plans are in place to develop a new statutory framework for a forward-looking, user-centred legal aid service.
  • Work has begun on evaluating training programmes for BSL/English interpreters to work within the justice sector.
  • Work has begun to improve access to emergency services for BSL users. Police Scotland, Scottish Fire & Rescue and Scottish Ambulance Service have together set up a short life working group (SLWG) to focus on this.
  • The emergency services are working with Government to improve access for people who cannot use standard telephone services, including BSL users.
  • Work has been carried out to improve access to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for BSL users. This has included working with Deaf Action and other groups to prepare a series of BSL safety videos for deaf students.

12.2 Actions and outcomes

Action No. 61


Establish a BSL-led justice advisory group to provide expertise and guidance to justice agencies. The group will play a key role in developing and delivering a programme of improvements to help the justice agencies better meet the needs of BSL users*.

Update June 2021

Scottish Government's Civil Law and Legal System division established the BSL Justice Advisory Group (BSLJAG), consisting of twelve organisations and agencies at commencement. The BSLJAG will use an evidence based approach to provide expertise and guidance to justice and legal agencies including the Scottish Government and develop and deliver a programme of improvements to help these agencies and the Scottish Government better meet the needs of BSL users. The BSLJAG aims to meet quarterly to discuss and monitor implementation of solutions for BSL users to issues within the justice system and wider legal systems in Scotland.

At the first meeting of the BSLJAG in February 2020, research was presented by Heriot Watt University alongside observations from the involved agencies which showed there were shortcomings in areas of the justice system in Scotland. The BSLJAG is exploring various routes to source a more substantial evidence base in order to focus its guidance and improvements on a wider variety of areas. Once a sufficiently large evidence base is gathered, the BSLJAG will develop a programme of improvements.

Due to COVID-19 the BSLJAG has not been able to reconvene since the first meeting, although it is a priority to arrange a second meeting when resources allow.

Following a period of public consultation (in summer 2019) there is support for developing a new statutory framework for a modern, forward-looking and user-centred legal aid service for Scotland. Analysis shows the majority of respondents support that the user should be at the centre of the legal aid system, and agreed that the current model of provision could be strengthened. There was also support for more targeted provision which could improve access to legally aided services in certain geographical areas or for groups with specific legal needs, such as domestic violence, disability or persons from a BME background. These are issues that the Bill Team would be interested on engaging with the advisory group on, during the Bill to reform the legal aid system. It appears that no representative groups submitted responses to the consultation.

Action No. 62


Work with partners to deliver and evaluate two training programmes aimed at supporting BSL/English interpreters to work within the Justice sector, with a view to informing a longer-term approach.

Update June 2021

Queen Margaret University update: Elective modules on the MSc BSL/English Interpreting programme are targeted at specialist areas of practice, including four that were supported by funding from the Scottish Government, Interpreting in: Healthcare Settings, Mental Healthcare Settings, Justice Settings and Educational Settings. Each of these modules has, to date, been delivered once. Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive. The initial uptake from interpreters in Scotland was not as enthusiastic as expected, although proportionately the number of students from Scotland is higher than for the rest of the UK. To address this, all modules have now been opened to 'Associate Students' who may wish to study on a single module rather than working towards a postgraduate award. We anticipate that this will attract greater number of students from Scotland and across the UK. Our first Associate Student, from Scotland, joined for the Interpreting in Arts and Culture Settings module in September 2020.

In February 2018 we ran a MOOC (massive open online course) on changes to the Criminal (Justice Scotland) Act 2016. The course material was generated in collaboration with Police Scotland. This course was free to interpreters of both spoken and signed languages to attend, and over 50 interpreters from Scotland participated, from a total of 230 worldwide.

Action No. 63


Work with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), Police Scotland and Scottish Ambulance Service to develop and implement measures to improve access to emergency services for BSL users*.

Update June 2021

Scotland's Emergency Services: Police Scotland, Scottish Fire & Rescue and Scottish Ambulance Service are committed to working collaboratively to improve and promote accessibility for people contacting any of our emergency services. We are specifically looking at improving our services for Deaf/deaf, hard of hearing communities and people who have difficulty communicating using speech.

In the summer of 2019, the Scottish Emergency Services along with NHS 24 set up a Short Life Working Group (SLWG) to focus on this. Since then, the SLWG have worked in partnership to review current contact methods and explore innovative new channels, such as the use of app based technology.

This has involved members of the SLWG travelling the length of the United Kingdom to identify potential improvements to service provision. This included a visit to the UK's 999 service provider BT in Liverpool, to gain a better understanding of Relay UK – a text based contact method. Additionally, members of the SLWG also travelled to Manchester sharing information and best practice with service leads for England and Wales.

The SLWG is currently working alongside the Scottish Government and Home Office to ensure that future service provision meets the needs of individuals and communities who need accessible contact methods other than standard speech based telephone services. In addition to this, wider consultation work is ongoing at a national level via Ofcom, the UK's communications regulation and locally through Equality & Diversity (E&D) practitioners.

The E&D practitioners have been considering common issues that the Services face in meeting the needs of individuals with a disability in the provision of our public services. The objective of this Accessible Communications Group (ACG) was to identify areas of common concern where there was sufficient overlap between the services in how a service was delivered to allow a collaborative approach to solving identified challenges.

The ACG have identified possible areas for joint working and prioritised these on an evaluation of the severity of the concern, the potential positive impact on service delivery and significance of the benefit to the recipient of the service.

As discussed above, this has included access to the emergency service and calling 999.

The ACG are also looking at the possibility of producing our own 'symbols sheet' that could be utilised at operational incidents to aid communication. The sharing of this piece of work will ensure that there is consistency around the symbols used, which will hopefully aid understanding in an emergency situation.

Due to Covid-19 these important areas of work have been delayed and partners are looking forward to being able to continue with these during 2021/2022. Equality practitioners from SFRS, Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service have continued to meet regularly throughout 2020/21 to discuss a range of equality issues including accessibility for BSL users.

Furthermore, SFRS and Police Scotland joined Scottish Government's BSL Justice Advisory Group

Action No. 64


Improve access to all Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), emergency and preventative strategies (including home fire safety visits), for BSL users*.

Update June 2021

Student Fire Safety: The SFRS have been working closely with third sector community groups such as Deaf Action and have prepared a range of BSL safety videos and other materials on our website. We collaborated to produce a safety guide for students who are deaf and are moving into independent rented accommodation.



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