Hello, I’m Katie Forrest, one of the directors here at Forrest Williams.
I am writing this page personally because it is very close to my heart. I still remember the day when my daughter was diagnosed with autism. It was a lonely, scary day, a memorable moment in a life that is an emotional rollercoaster. My daughter is a frequent visitor to my office and is known and loved by all of my team. We say often that she has been sent to teach us all. She has taught us that the most vulnerable in our society desperately need a voice within the legal system. And she has given us the passion to ensure that we are that voice for whoever needs us.
The legal system can be scary and confusing for most people, and that fear and confusion is amplified dramatically if you are a person who is already vulnerable or the parent of a child or adult who is vulnerable. My team and I are dedicated to providing the highest level of support and understanding to vulnerable people in the legal system, where our role goes beyond the typical role of a lawyer, and extends to becoming an advocate for your rights and equal opportunities. Sadly, some of our most vulnerable people are most at risk of being charged with criminal offences, and are then left most unable to defend themselves at trial.
We ensure that your needs will be taken into account throughout the legal process. This means, in effect, that we will completely cater our preparation process to your needs. This often means full family involvement, more frequent face-to-face conferences, and a complete shifting of our language so that we say only what we mean and understand that our words will be taken literally. We understand sensory needs. We can provide fidget tools for conferences and will speak to you, or your family, to see how we can best put you at ease to meet with us. We ensure we have a fridge full of Dr Pepper before we meet one lovely client – it’s not a huge thing, but the whole team know this man’s drinks preference and seeing his favourite drink hopefully helps him feel at ease.
We will work to understand your exact needs, and make an application for the Court process to be adapted around these needs. A Court will automatically be expected to accommodate your accessibility requirements if you are in a wheelchair, but there is no automatic understanding of the fact that you, perhaps, shouldn’t be asked double-negatives or will need additional time to process questions before being able to answer. We see in particular many young men with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, or mental ages younger than their actual age, being charged with sexual offences.
We pride ourselves on having the specialist knowledge required to be the best team to assist in these cases. In some cases, because of our experience and understanding of additional needs, we have even identified vulnerabilities in a client that have never been diagnosed, and guided those clients through the assessment and diagnosis process while preparing their legal case. In these cases, the families often feel that while the legal case has been traumatic, the diagnosis has been a blessing.
While we have experienced the police saying things such as “he can’t have Special Needs, he goes to University”, we understand that a young adult with Asperger’s Syndrome can be incredibly gifted academically but have a very limited ability to read facial expressions, making it very hard to decide whether a girl is consenting to having her hand held. We appreciate that mental health problems often affect a person’s ability to digest and remember information. We understand that you may be easily led. And we understand that you may not know that you are easily led. But we also understand that the next client with the same diagnosis as you, may be entirely unwavering in their opinions.
We have the understanding of real-life, hands-on experience of additional needs – we have not just attended a half day course to learn the basics because we ‘should’, we have deliberately chosen to use our experience to help, because we must.