What do they do?
It must be emphasized that every referral an intermediary receives is different. This is illustrated by our mini case studies which use elements of some real cases. Fuller case studies may be found in the Members Area.
Working with victims and witnesses
Appointing an intermediary will often make the difference between a vulnerable witness giving their best evidence, or not communicating at all. The Witness Intermediary Scheme, overseen by the Ministry of Justice, was first introduced in pilot form in 2004. It has been available throughout England and Wales since 2008. Intermediaries, who are selected, trained and registered under this scheme, frequently assist two-way communication between vulnerable complainants or witnesses and their police interviewers at the investigation stage of a case.
The first task for an intermediary is to assess a witness’s communication abilities, emotional state and other relevant aspects. This may include contacting a carer, school, doctor, psychologist, social worker or other professionals who are familiar with their communication skills and difficulties. Every witness they work with is unique, with communication needs which must be assessed in detail and appropriately supported. The intermediary then writes a detailed report with recommendations for court.
If the case goes to trial, the intermediary may attend the court with the witness for a pre-trial visit, so they are familiar with the building and the layout of a court room. Many now visit a Live Link room and experience answering some non-evidential questions through the TV screen. It is less daunting to a child or vulnerable adult witness if they have also seen the special Witness Service waiting room and met a Witness Service volunteer who will greet them on the day they give evidence.
Before trial, the intermediary meets with Judge and Counsel (prosecution and defence lawyers) at a Ground Rules Hearing to discuss the recommendations in the intermediary’s report. The witness watches their videoed evidence – to refresh their memory; and the intermediary aims to be with them while they do this, monitoring their understanding and possible need for short breaks.
During cross-examination, the intermediary is beside the witness while they give evidence, assisting two-way communication between witness and Counsel. The intermediary may advise on many matters such as complexity and speed of questioning, and the psychological state of the witness.
Intermediaries are impartial servants of the court. They assist a witness but are not on the side of Prosecution or Defence. It is this impartiality which sets them apart from Appropriate Adults, carers and advocacy workers.
Registered Intermediaries adhere to the RI Procedural Guidance Manual
For further information about trials involving vulnerable witnesses, including the importance of a Ground Rules Hearing, the modification of questions by advocates, and to see a short film about the process, please refer to The Advocate’s Gateway ‘A Question of Practice’ 2013
Working with suspects and defendants
In the case of vulnerable suspects and defendants, this work is carried out independently since it currently falls outside the scheme regulated by the Ministry of Justice.
Intermediaries (some of them RIs, and many who work for Communicourt and Triangle) may accompany a suspect at their police interview if requested. However, most often they assess the individual’s communication skills and needs after this early stage.
The intermediary may then assist two-way communication at meetings with the defence solicitor and counsel. And, at the discretion of the judge, the intermediary may also attend certain pre-trial court hearings at which the defendant is obliged to attend. At the trial itself, the intermediary either sits in the dock with the defendant throughout (to explain procedure and support communication), or may be directed by the judge only to assist such communication during cross-examination.
Just as Registered Intermediaries operate under a strict Code of Conduct which demands they remain impartial and independent servants of the court, so too must intermediaries working with vulnerable defendants. It is this impartiality which sets them apart from Appropriate Adults, carers and advocacy workers.