Intermediary role

The intermediary role is a varied one. Intermediaries can be registered or independent and work in a variety of court settings. 

Thanks to your (intermediary) support he was able to attend court ... you kept him calm ... the skills you have are amazing ... your role is invaluable ... I can’t praise you and your role enough

- Parent of young witness with autism. 

Find out more about intermediaries here:

Why are intermediaries needed?

Intermediaries are specialists in communication, provided to children and vulnerable adults to enable them to have a voice in the Criminal Justice System…..in doing so, they give these victims access to justice

- Baroness Newlove of Warrington, A Voice for the Voiceless, Victim’s Commissioner’s Review into the Provision of registered intermediaries for children and vulnerable witnesses, 2018. 

Intermediaries have a unique role within the Criminal Justice System that enables them to:

  • Use their expertise in communication to work out what people can understand
  • Suggest ways to ask questions that will be easily understood
  • Assess people’s ability to put their thoughts into words
  • Suggest strategies so that people can give evidence and explain what happened clearly and coherently
  • Assist people in understanding their trial or tribunal, its results, and in making their choices and opinions known 

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 Newlove of Warrington

Intermediaries use their clinical skills and expertise to assess and address communication barriers linked to mental health challenges, trauma and anxiety. As communication experts, intermediaries believe that best evidence is most likely to be achieved when anxiety and the risk of re-traumatisation are considered. You can find more information on trauma informed practise here

Without the intermediary, we would not have had a case. Justice was done, thanks to the intermediary scheme

- CPS Prosecutor 

Who do intermediaries work with?

Some people are described as ‘vulnerable’ in law and can be eligible for special types of assistance because they are under 18 or because they are deemed to have a mental disorder. Intermediaries are one of a range of ‘special measures’ which are used to help vulnerable people in court cases. 

Some examples of people who might receive intermediary assistance due to differences in their communication are:

  • children under 18

and people with

  • learning disabilities
  • physical disabilities 
  • neurological conditions
  • stroke or brain injuries
  • autism

You can find out more about special measures and vulnerable witnesses by reading about the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

What do intermediaries do?

Communication is a two-way process. People need to understand what they are being asked, be able to answer, and have that answer understood clearly by others. Intermediaries use their skills as communication specialists to support this process. 

From initial investigation to trial and beyond each vulnerable person is unique and each case is different, but in essence an intermediary will:

Assess the communication needs, skills and difficulties of the vulnerable person by:

  • meeting the vulnerable person (perhaps over several sessions)
  • gathering information from other professionals (with the vulnerable person’s permission)

They write a detailed report with advice and recommendations for the police and court officials, which can:

  • ​​​describe the strategies that will make understanding easier
  •  be used to assist the vulnerable person give as much detail as possible.

The report can be used to plan with:

  • police officers - as they get ready for an interview
  • barristers and solicitors - when they phrase their questions during a trial or court hearing. 

The report is used as the basis for a meeting with the Judge and barristers, or magistrates in a court case, and sets out clearly how the vulnerable witness will be assisted, what strategies will be used, and how any difficulties (like needing breaks or not being able to answer a question) will be dealt with. This is called a Ground Rules Hearing. 

Intermediaries work to enable all court participants to follow the action, make informed choices, and understand any judgements that are made.

In practical terms this means that intermediaries make sure that:

  • things are explained and talked about in ways that the vulnerable person can understand
  • vulnerable people have appropriate adaptations and the resources they need to get their message across
  • vulnerable people will often have an intermediary beside them during the trial, to monitor and assist their communication.

 The presence of an intermediary throughout a long trial, and retrial, of a vulnerable young defendant with mental health difficulties was invaluable. The intermediary assisted us in effectively communicating with our client. Her presence calmed and reassured him and we were made aware of any issues promptly. We were able to concentrate on the legal complexities of the case, safe in the knowledge that our client’s health and well being were being monitored, managed and communicated to us

- Defence Counsel

Where do intermediaries work? 

Throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland intermediaries can be found enabling communication across the full range of court jurisdictions within the justice system:

  • with police during interviews
  • with solicitors, barristers, judges and magistrates in courts

Intermediaries are often asked to work in new and flexible ways to make sure that communication is clear, for example, supporting meetings with other professional colleagues, such as the probation service, or working with the Witness Service to make sure that people understand what might happen if they have to go to court.

Intermediaries can be registered and non-registered.

  • Registered intermediaries are selected, trained, accredited and regulated by the Ministry of Justice (England and Wales) or the Department of Justice (Northern Ireland).
  • Non-registered intermediaries (may also be known as independent intermediaries) are selected, trained and accredited by independent organisations.

In England and Wales

  • Registered intermediaries facilitate communication for vulnerable victims and witnesses in Crown Prosecution cases.
     
  • Independent/non-registered intermediaries facilitate communication for vulnerable people who are:
  • suspects or defendants in Criminal Prosecution cases
  • participants in Family Court cases
  • participants in Tribunals or Hearings

In Northern Ireland

  • Registered intermediaries facilitate communication for victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants.

Internationally there are a range of established and developing intermediary scheme. 

Without the intermediary, we would not have had a case. Justice was done, thanks to the intermediary scheme

- CPS Prosecutor

For practical examples of intermediaries work see case studies here.