The Intermediary Role
Who are we?
Communication specialists trained to work with children and vulnerable adults during police interviews and in court.
What do we do?
We assess how well someone will be able to understand questions and express him/herself before giving evidence to the police or in court.
We help the police get the best quality of evidence when they interview the witness/suspect.
We report our findings to the court and advise the judge and barristers how best to question the witness.
In court we stand next to the witness/defendant and ensure questions and answers are fairly put and understood by everyone. We facilitate communication for defendants, enabling effective participation, throughout the trial.
Who do we help?
Our services are usually requested as “Special Measures” for all very young children, and for any child or teenager with poor language skills, autism, mental health issues or learning disability. We also assist vulnerable adults with mental health issues, learning difficulties, dementia or any other condition where communication is affected.
Where do we work?
Police stations and criminal, civil and family courts.
“The simple truth is that without intermediaries we would not be able to offer justice to some of the most vulnerable people in our society” Baroness Scotland
Many of our cases involve physical or sexual abuse.
Evidence from children as young as three to adults with schizophrenia, has been effective in cases of murder, fraud, rape, child exploitation and trafficking.
Intermediaries frequently have to work with vulnerable witnesses, suspects and defendants with extremely challenging needs.
The following case examples illustrate the range, variety and complexity of some typical scenarios that intermediaries have faced over the last few years.
A three-year-old girl was the sole witness to the fatal stabbing of her mother. An intermediary assessed the girl’s speech and language and made recommendations to the police on the best ways to help her give an account of what she had seen. Through play activities including dolls and drawing she was able to tell what happened both to the police and to the jury at the trial. She was cross-examined by the defence barrister via TV link to the court. The intermediary was with her while she answered questions to make sure she understood everything she was asked and to clarify so that everyone in the court could understand her answers. The intermediary was later told that many members of the jury were moved to tears as they listened to her account. The defendant was convicted and received a life sentence.
An eighteen-year-old young man had been charged on two counts of sexually assaulting the six-year-old grandchild of his foster father. The young man’s mother was an alcoholic and he was born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which resulted in an unusual facial appearance, deficiency in his physical growth and cognitive impairment. The intermediary found that the young man had very poor attention and verbal comprehension. He was extremely anxious about going to court and had little understanding of the court process. The intermediary recommended that he should not have to stand in the dock throughout the trial and the judge agreed to this. The intermediary stayed with him throughout the trial explaining what was happening and what the evidence meant. The intermediary had noted that he was very eager to please, had limited understanding and was easily confused. The judge agreed that he should not be asked “leading questions” and that all questions should be simple and “concrete” and asked in chronological order. The young man replied confidently when he was cross-examined and was acquitted on both counts. Afterwards he burst into tears. Later he returned to the college course he had been obliged to leave during the trial period.
Two women with cerebral palsy alleged that they were assaulted by one of their care workers. The intermediaries assessed the women’s communication skills and assisted them when they were interviewed by the police. One witness communicated using an electronic aid with symbols and pictures. The intermediary added icons for the options ‘I don’t know’, ‘I don’t understand’ and ‘not true’. The other witness could answer only ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions using eye movements. The intermediary helped to identify and document her responses. The questioning had to be carried out slowly with a great deal of planning.
A young man with Asperger’s Syndrome walked onto a zebra crossing causing a driver to brake suddenly. An argument ensued where the young man insisted that he was in the right as he was a pedestrian on a pedestrian crossing. The driver was a member of a local gang. Later that day the driver tracked down the young man and stabbed him. Following the attack he spent several weeks in intensive care and even during his recovery he was afraid to leave his home. An intermediary assessed him and assisted at the police interview. At trial the defence advocate followed the intermediary’s recommendations to ask short questions and give the witness plenty of time to respond. The defendant was convicted and received a long custodial sentence. After the trial the young man said that, for the first time in 18 months, his life could now move on.
Police officers visited a house where they found a young woman who had been kept in virtual slavery. She was deaf and had had no exposure to language or education. An intermediary, who was also deaf, worked with her over 10 sessions to build rapport and create an effective method of communicating with her. The police filmed 14 interviews with her, assisted by the intermediary, where she disclosed allegations of rape and other serious offences. The intermediary was present at the trial to facilitate communication while the witness gave her evidence over many days. The defendant was convicted and received a lengthy sentence.
A man with schizophrenia was the victim of a violent hate crime. He gave a written statement to the police. An intermediary was asked to assess him. His symptoms included visual and auditory delusions and paranoid thoughts affecting his communication but the intermediary considered that he could give evidence with her assistance. The prosecution’s application for the intermediary to be present at trial was contested by the defence, but agreed to by the judge. The intermediary made recommendations about how the lawyers should question the witness. These included avoiding muttering, covering their mouths or rustling their papers to avoid triggering his paranoid behaviours. During the trial, the man referred to a visual prompt card created by the intermediary, reminding him to listen to the questions and think before answering. The defendant who attacked him was convicted.
A six-year-old girl was punched so hard in her stomach that part of it burst and she nearly died. The police officer was able to obtain accurate evidence assisted by an intermediary who provided props and communication aids when necessary to enable the girl to talk about what happened. The case went to trial with the intermediary present at the court visit, before and during cross-examination. The defendant was found guilty. The judge said that it was the clear evidence given during the interview which enabled the jury to decide on a verdict.
A woman with a mental health disorder was charged with murdering her husband as part of a suicide pact. The judge ordered an intermediary assist during the trial to help her regulate and contain her emotions, enabling her to communicate and participate effectively.