Guidance on using the IfJ defence referral system

Around half of IfJ member intermediaries accept referrals of vulnerable suspects and defendants as well as vulnerable complainants and witnesses. Each intermediary typically accepts referrals within a limited range of geographical areas, and some specialise in youth or adult work. A small number also work exclusively with clients who are profoundly deaf and communicate by means of sign language.

Solicitors wishing to find an intermediary for their client should make an initial selection from the matrix of 25 links. England and Wales have been divided into 12 geographical areas, each with youth and adult options; in addition there is a link for the profoundly deaf.

Clicking on the link opens a Contact Form where you can enter your contact details, and provide relevant client information. Please fill in as many of the fields as you can. The form will be emailed to all intermediaries who have indicated they handle referrals in the category chosen. They will review the information provided, decide if they are in a position to help, and advise you accordingly.

There is considerable pressure on intermediaries – the number of referrals is growing fast and recruitment and training can hardly keep pace. The need to be present throughout the trial makes significantly greater demands on intermediary work schedules. It follows that seeking an intermediary well in advance of the trial will greatly improve the chances of success – finding an intermediary just a few days before a lengthy trial will be little short of a miracle!

Some judges are stipulating that an intermediary be used for evidence-giving and cross-examination only. This is not a point on which IfJ has a hard-and-fast viewpoint; it is for individual intermediaries to decide on the basis on which they will accept referrals. However it is likely that the intermediary will at least insist on a decision being made after their assessment of the client’s communication needs. If the services of an intermediary are required for the ‘active’ communication aspects of the trial, then it must at least be questionable if the client will be able to sufficiently understand the rest of the trial to be able to appropriately instruct their lawyers.

The range of communication difficulties is such that all intermediaries will specialise to some degree. The contact form asks for information about your client’s communication needs and this will help intermediaries decide if they have the appropriate skills. All IfJ member intermediaries have undergone specialist training with the MoJ, Communicourt or Triangle. However, you should be aware that IfJ is not a regulatory body and it is your responsibility to decide whether or not to engage the services of any given intermediary.

It is also your responsibility to obtain estimates of cost, for both the initial assessment and later at court. Intermediaries are generally freelance practitioners and fee rates may vary.

Please do not include any client-identifiable information on the contact form. Such information, as well as expert reports, should only be shared once an intermediary has been engaged.

IfJ welcomes feedback on your experience of using this new system.