On occasion, if a trial is long, or if more than one vulnerable defendant is involved in a case, intermediaries may need to work in parallel. Prior to one such trial, it was agreed that two intermediaries would share responsibility for support of two-way communication at court. Each intermediary had additional work that would require them to be absent from court on certain days.
Mandy, a young woman with learning and slight hearing difficulties, was assessed jointly by the two intermediaries, who found she had several problems following questions or statements, and difficulty expressing herself clearly. The intermediaries then wrote a report on Mandy’s communication skills and needs, and later attended a Ground Rules Hearing at which the report was discussed with the judge and barristers. Sound levels, as well as Mandy’s comprehension difficulties and short attention span, were all considered.
During cross-examination, one intermediary stood next to her in the witness box, while the other sat just behind. A plan had been devised and agreed with the court: the intermediaries would swap over at convenient moments, namely during the frequent breaks. They were able to communicate with each other at such times, either verbally or by passing written notes with comments or ideas to assist.
Working jointly in this way required careful planning, and regular de-briefing. Meeting together proved invaluable, not only for keeping up with the progress of the trial, but also by providing an opportunity to reflect and discuss possible strategies to assist communication with this young and vulnerable defendant.
The value-added nature of the involvement of intermediaries has been acknowledged by police, lawyers, judges and carers. In certain long and complex cases, working together, as described above, can add a further, positive dimension.