The Vulnerable Accused in the Criminal Justice System conference

University of Birmingham
Wednesday 13 September (10:00) - Thursday 14 September 2023 (16:00)

Conference overview

The vulnerability of suspects and defendants in criminal proceedings is a topic that has received increasing and sustained judicial attention in recent years. The Salduz judgment and subsequent case law recognises that all suspects are potentially vulnerable. With specific regard to defendants, there is an ever-growing body of case law concerned with the ability of vulnerable defendants to participate effectively in criminal proceedings, as per Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including the European Court of Human Rights judgments of T v United Kingdom and SC v United Kingdom. Whilst such developments are positive (in that they mark official recognition of the potential vulnerabilities of suspects and defendants) several issues remain in ensuring the proper identification/recognition of vulnerability among these groups and the provision of appropriate responses to it.

This conference is dedicated to a discussion of the many unresolved issues that remain with regard to suspect/defendant/offender vulnerability, with a view to moving the conversation forward. It will bring together a range of contributors, exploring different aspects of the criminal process, to critically interrogate the safeguarding, protection, and participation of vulnerable suspects and defendants across jurisdictions. Vulnerability is to be interpreted broadly, and so too is the ‘accused’, to include vulnerable people entering through to leaving the criminal justice system. It is an in-person event, designed to provide invaluable networking opportunities to those working in these areas and to facilitate collaborative thinking and working. 

We are also delighted to be launching the edited collection Vulnerability, The Accused, and the Criminal Justice System: Multijurisdictional Perspectives (Routledge 2023), edited by Dehaghani, R., Fairclough, S. and Mergaerts L. at the Conference Drinks Reception.


The deadline for registration was 17 August 2023.

Confirmed speakers

We are grateful to the Society of Legal Scholars for funding that has enabled us to secure a fantastic line up of invited speakers.


  • Professor Penny Cooper: barrister and Senior Research Fellow at Birkbeck University of London – ‘Suspect and defendant vulnerability in the criminal justice system: progress made, lessons learned, and future endeavours’

Session speakers

  • Professor John Jackson: Professor of Comparative Criminal Law and Procedure, University of Nottingham – ‘The vulnerable accused and the role of the intermediary’
  • Dr Lore Mergaerts: post-doctoral researcher, KU Leuven - ‘Assessing vulnerability prior to and during police questioning: Responsibilities and training’
  • Dr Miranda Bevan: Lecturer in Law, Goldsmiths University of London, and former barrister - ‘In search of effective participation for children in police custody: Legal, practical, and cultural challenges’
  • Dr Alan Cusack: Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Limerick - ‘Protecting Vulnerable Suspects: A Survey of Existing and Emerging Pre-Trial Safeguards in Ireland’
  • Dr John Taggart: barrister and Lecturer, Queen’s University, Belfast – ‘The role of appropriate adults and intermediaries in fitness for interview decisions in England and Wales and Northern Ireland’ 

Call for papers: deadline 24 May 2023

We welcome papers from a range of socio-legal, theoretical, doctrinal, empirical, comparative, and interdisciplinary perspectives, from individuals at all career stages (including PGR/ECRs), and from jurisdictions within and outside of the UK. Relevant topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The conceptualisation of vulnerability for suspect/defendant/offender populations.
  • The identification of vulnerability among these groups.
  • Issues relevant to specific stages of the process, for example from first contact with the police (stop and search/voluntary interview/interview under caution/arrest); post-charge (plea/bail decisions); at trial (Youth Court/magistrates’/Crown court trials or equivalent jurisdictional distinctions); and post-verdict (post-acquittal/conviction/sentencing/experience in custody/resettlement, etc).
  • Legal responses to vulnerability and their suitability/use in practice (for example appropriate adults, legal representation, special measures, Ground Rules Hearings, reasonable adjustments).
  • Barriers to participation among vulnerable suspects and defendants.
  • The experiences of vulnerable suspects/defendants/offenders.
  • Issues around resources and the provision of adequate support to relevant individuals.

Please note the deadline for call for papers has now passed.

Key dates                                                              

19 April 2023                                    Call for papers published

24 May 2023                                     Deadline for abstract submission

June 2023                                          Applicants notified of success

July 2023                                           Registration opens

14 August 2023                                  Deadline for submission of extended abstracts (compulsory for all speakers)

17 August 2023                                  Registration closes

13-14 September 2023                       Conference takes place

Other information

  • Submit abstracts via our online form.
  • Successful applicants will be required to submit an extended abstract (1000-1500 words ahead of the conference for publication on the conference website and the Defending Vulnerability blog
  • Delegate fee – approx. £80 for two-day conference, including lunch, refreshments and drinks reception (exact cost tbc).

We are very pleased to be able to offer five PGR/ECR bursaries, funded by the SLSA, worth £200 towards travel and overnight accommodation. Please register your interest in applying for one of these when submitting your abstract.

  • There will be a Conference Dinner for the evening of 13 September which will be subsidised thanks to funding from the British Society of Criminology.
  • If there is sufficient interest, we plan to publish a Special Issue following the conference. Please register your interest when submitting your abstract. Full written papers will need to be submitted by Easter 2024.
  • Please see the Conference website for joining details for SLS, SLSA and BSC.
  • Please see the Conference website for travel and accommodation information for the University of Birmingham.

Society membership benefits and joining information

Socio-Legal Studies Association

Society of Legal Scholars

British Society of Criminology

Organisers: Dr Samantha Fairclough (University of Birmingham), Dr Roxanna Dehaghani (Cardiff University), Dr Harriet Pierpoint (University of South Wales)

With funding from: Society of Legal Scholars, Socio-Legal Studies Association, British Society of Criminology, and University of Birmingham.

Travel to the conference

Directions to Birmingham and to our Edgbaston campus are available on the Getting here page.  We will confirm the venue on our Edgbaston campus for the conference on this webpage.


For those who would like to book a room at an on-campus hotel, please see here for options at our Edgbaston Park Hotel.

Please visit our Accommodation page for advice on how to research other accommodation options in Birmingham. 

Food and Drink

Lunches and refreshments will be provided for conference delegates on both days. There will be a drinks reception for all conference delegates at the end of the first day. And there is the option to register and pay for the conference dinner as part of our registration process.

For more information on food and drink options on and off campus visit our Food and Drink page.  

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