Motor Neurone Disease Affecting Witness' Speech

Donald, a 52-year-old man, had Motor Neurone Disease which severely affected both his mobility and his speech.

On returning slowly along the pavement from the barber’s shop, he witnessed a brutal attack on a local woman who was frail and unable to defend herself. Donald could not come to her rescue because of his own condition but dialled 999; and an ambulance and police arrived soon after.

The woman sustained very severe head wounds and as a result spent many weeks in hospital. Donald was the only witness, but his speech difficulties made it extremely hard to give evidence that was audible and intelligible at his first camera recorded interview. National Crime Agency was contacted by the interviewing officer and an RI was requested.

The Registered Intermediary (RI) assessment involved testing the volume and clarity of Donald’s speech; and assessing Donald's relative intelligibility of phrases of different lengths. It was useful to compare how effective Donald’s speech was when he was seated in different positions, and when the microphone was posititioned at different distances. Lastly, there was discussion of the timing of Donald's medications during the day. The RI and officer planned a second police interview, to be held at a time that suited Donald’s medication regime. Donald was then enabled to give a more intelligible account of the attack.

Before the trial, some months later, the RI met the judge and barristers at a Ground Rules Hearing, to consider Donald’s mobility limitations, his drug regime, optimal times for giving evidence, and other factors which tended to affect his speech. On the day of the cross-examination, Donald was equipped with a portable microphone and gave his witness statement from a separate video link room. He was therefore able to be heard in the court through the microphone. The RI would advise barristers how to rephrase some questions, if need be, so that his answers need not be long and complex.

For an example of a real, high profile case where an intermediary used highly specialised equipment and expertise to support a man with failing speech due to motor neuron disease see an article from the Independent here