Defendant with learning difficulties

An intermediary was asked to assist with communication of a defendant at a trial involving a 39 year-old man. Steve had a learning disability, had attended special needs schools and was unable to read or write. His language levels, including understanding and expressing himself, were similar to those of a child in Junior School.

Steve had been charged with possession of a large quantity of stolen goods. Although he pleaded guilty to this charge, he maintained that he had been asked to look after the items by a friend.

The intermediary prepared a report for the court, including the results of his assessment of Steve’s communication abilities. He would have difficulty understanding the import of what was said to him; for example, and his ability to use reasoning skills was poor. Steve was also easily distracted, unassertive and had limited ability to express his opinions.

In considering the sentence for this defendant who had admitted guilt, the Judge took account of the intermediary report and also read psychologist and probation reports. He ruled that Steve had been taken advantage of by a more forceful and manipulative personality, and that he would also find it extremely difficult to cope with the prison environment. He therefore imposed a suspended sentence. The co-defendant, who had no such difficulties, was sent to prison.

The main purpose of the intermediary report is to provide guidance for communication during the course of a trial, including cross-examination where this applies. In this case an enlightened judge had also noted how the defendant’s stated difficulties had affected his behaviour.