Chair's Thoughts on The Guardian's article, 'Helping child witnesses'.

Chair’s Thoughts on The Guardian’s article, ‘Helping child witnesses’.

Intermediaries for Justice welcome the extremely informative article in today’s Guardian Magazine: Helping child witnesses: ‘One girl gave evidence with a hamster on her lap’.

Ruth Marchant, Registered Intermediary and director of Triangle has raised awareness of the work of Intermediaries carried out throughout the country on a daily basis.

The article describes well the process from referral, to investigation and then to trial with a young child.

In addition to working with young children, Intermediaries work with adults and children who fall into the following categories: any child/young person under 18 years; Mental Health Disorders; Autism; Physical Disability (i.e. cerebral palsy, stroke, progressive disorders); Learning Disability and The Vulnerable Elderly.

As communication specialists, as stated in the article, a large part of the Intermediary’s role is regulating the child’s and vulnerable person’s emotional state in order to enable them to effectively participate in having a voice and giving evidence.

The Guardian comments on The Victims Commissioner’s Report and how Baroness Newlove has highlighted a fourfold increase in the demand for Registered Intermediaries. Sadly there has been no matching rise in terms of recruitment leaving many cases unmatched. There are currently, on average, 120 Registered Intermediaries working throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, trying exhaustively to cater for the demand.

The JUSTICE Report, Mental Health and Fair Trial also acknowledges the value of Intermediaries and calls for an increase in availability.

Intermediaries are neutral in the process, responsible to the Court whilst working equally with both Prosecution and Defence to facilitate communication. Their role is to assist; to help make the experience person-centred; to help adapt the language and experience to the needs of the child or vulnerable adult during the investigation and trial.

No vulnerable person, witness or defendant, should be retraumatised or unable to find their voice during the process. The role of the Intermediary is to assist police officers and solicitors during investigation and barristers during trial to adapt questions and to enable communication so the vulnerable person can answer in their best way, whether through showing, drawing or telling.

IfJ urges the Ministry of Justice to take action on the recommendations for an urgent need for this role to be developed.

A well-governed Intermediary Scheme needs to be created by recruiting and training experienced professionals. This must also include a robust supervisory system, guarding the well-being of Intermediaries who are dealing with distress and darkness on a regular basis.

Catherine O’Neill

Chair of Intermediaries for Justice

– on behalf of the committee