Access to Justice for women with Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, Bulgaria


On 16-19th May, Catherine O’Neill, Chair of IfJ was invited to join Jenny Talbot OBE of the Prison Reform Trust, to travel to Bulgaria to join discussions about Access to Justice for women with Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, who are victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and trafficking. The event was led by the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF). BGRF was founded in June 1998 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The team is made up of lawyers, academics, experts in advocacy, education, monitoring violations of human rights, lobbying for legislative changes, preparing publications and networking.

The event was opened by Rositsa Dimitrova, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Labour and Social Policy, who was especially interested in the role of intermediaries. Other participants in the event were senior officials from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria (persons with disability) and various NGO’s working with Disabilities including Dementia. Also present were barristers and social workers.

Catherine gave a detailed presentation on the role of the Registered Intermediary, which was followed by questions and discussion.  A great deal of interest was shown in the props used by intermediaries. Catherine also presented on Trauma Informed Practice which provoked many questions and relevant discussion. At the end of the meeting the deputy minister noted that Catherine’s presentation was timely, as work was underway on a Bill to domesticate the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The meeting went on to discuss the Istanbul Convention, which is the strongest move that has ever been made to combat violence against women and girls globally. Bulgaria and the UK have signed the Convention, but neither has ratified it yet. The forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill should move the UK closer to ratification and similar work is underway in Bulgaria.

We hope this is the start of IfJ’s involvement in training associated professionals and also the general public.

We would like to thank Jenny Talbot for inviting us to be involved and giving us this wonderful opportunity to spread the word!