By Kerrie Charlampowicz

The criminal justice system can be very daunting and difficult to navigate for vulnerable individuals with communication difficulties.

Communication difficulties can present a barrier to fair access to justice in various settings including family court, criminal court, tribunals and suspect interviews. The use of intermediaries from The Intermediary Cooperative can overcome this barrier by facilitating communication, ensuring understanding and promoting effective two-way communication.

Communication does not operate in a vacuum, rather it is a two-way process and it is also dependent on environmental factors such as noise, audience, familiarity and formality.

What is an Intermediary?

An intermediary is a communication specialist who helps people with communication difficulties to communicate more effectively with justice professionals.

We support communication in court proceedings and are impartial, with a duty of care to the court and the court process.

Intermediaries work within two schemes:

  • Registered Intermediaries (RI) for witnesses & complainants in criminal matters.   
  • HMCTS Appointed Intermediaries (HAI) for people in all other areas of the justice system.

Here at TIC, we work within the HAI scheme, although many of our intermediaries are also RI’s. We have a team of over 50 highly experienced Intermediaries who have professional backgrounds in a range of specialisms including Speech and Language Therapy, Psychology and Education.

What do Intermediaries do?

We work directly with vulnerable people during police interviews, court hearings, legal conferences and full trials.

Intermediaries meet with vulnerable clients, carry out a detailed assessment of their communication, then make individualised recommendations about the client’s particular communication needs and how their communication can be assisted throughout the court process. These recommendations will be written in the Intermediary report and will consist of a range of measures to assist participation.

Vulnerable individuals are referred to us for Intermediary assessment by solicitors, court personnel and barristers.

We then attend court or conferences with the vulnerable individual and facilitate positive interactions between them and legal professionals. We might intervene and offer guidance to professionals to ensure that the communication strategies are being adopted. Intermediaries are communication experts who are highly skilled in breaking down complex information, simplifying language (written and verbal) to make it accessible to the population of vulnerable individuals who come into contact with the justice system and assisting individuals to regulate their emotional state.

Example: Kay is a mother with autism and learning difficulties who has been assessed by an experienced Intermediary. The Intermediary has made recommendations to the court on how best to facilitate two-way communication. The Intermediary sits with Kay in conferences at court and uses simple diagrams to support what her legal representative is saying. The Intermediary simplifies complex, legal or technical language for her as the conference continues, ensuring that she understands what is being said. The Intermediary will check by asking the mother to say what she has heard in the conference. The Intermediary may suggest slowing down the pace of talking to allow the mother time to process what is being said. Kay can then make decisions and instruct her legal representative based on her understanding of matters.  

Who needs an Intermediary?

Intermediaries are a valuable resource for those individuals who have communication difficulties, intellectual difficulties or mental health issues that may impact their ability to absorb and convey information effectively. Research suggests that at least 60% of young offenders have language difficulties (Bryan et al, 2015) and many offenders have speaking and listening skills below those expected of an 11-year-old. (Davies et al. 2004)

Whilst there is a paucity of recent data on vulnerability in family court, the Advocates Gateway, [1] cites two studies: One profiling the lives of 30 birth mothers who had children removed found that many of the mothers had ‘major issues’ around their capacity to exercise choice, long-standing mental health issues and learning disability (Broadhurst 2012) [2] and another reporting that 12.5% of parents involved in care proceedings had learning difficulties (Masson et al 2008)[3]

In summary, it is likely that you will have clients who have communication difficulties and identifying who they are and what their communication needs are at the earliest stage could be crucial to the outcome of their case. But how do you know if your client is struggling to communicate?

Does my client need an Intermediary?

You may have noticed that your client appears distracted, struggles to attend appointments, answers in one or two words or their behaviour escalates quickly. These are just a few of the outward signs of communication difficulties.

Think about your client, do they:

Have diagnosed conditions such as ADHD, depression or learning disability? Do they have a history of neglect, limited access to education or experience of trauma? Do they talk too little or too much? Is what they say relevant to their case? Is your client physically, visually or hearing impaired? Can your client read and write? What is their literacy level? Does your client have difficulty containing their emotions or are they passive to their environment or situation?

Example: Mo is a 54-year-old man who has a reading age of 7 and ADHD. He is a defendant in a criminal case. During the trial the Intermediary assists him to read statements and in order that he can follow the evidence, the Intermediary has simplified relevant parts of the bundle to short sentences supported with symbols and diagrams, so that he can understand. She will regularly ask the Judge for breaks so that the man can rest from concentrating and also to check his understanding of what has been discussed.  When he has conferences with his legal team, the Intermediary will assist the man and the barrister to ensure language is simplified and complex matters are explained and understood. When Mo gives evidence, the Intermediary will stand with him and simplify any difficult language. She might speak directly to the Judge to highlight an issue with the clients understanding. If he has to be taken to parts of the bundle, she will help him to navigate the pagination and read the sections directed aloud, simplifying any complex language in real time.   

There are myriad communication difficulties that will negatively impact on your clients ability to understand spoken and written language, follow non-verbal language, manage their emotional state appropriately and express themselves effectively in justice settings.

The most accurate and effective way to work out whether your client has communication difficulties, what they are and what can be done about them, is to seek an Intermediary assessment from a highly skilled Intermediary. TIC Intermediaries will be able to assess your client’s communication considering the following main areas: Attention, Listening and Concentration; Expressive Language and Speech; Regulation; Literacy; Background and Social Communication.

The TIC Intermediary will be able to determine whether or not the client needs Intermediary assistance to be able to have fair access to justice.

For further information or to make a referral, get in touch today.

Make an online referral:                                               Or call us on:                           0300 3020 720


[2] Broadhurst, K, ‘Women who have children removed to care, year after year, are being failed by a system unable to respond to them as vulnerable adults needing support in their own right’ (2012) Lecture given at Family Justice Council, Annual Debate, 3 December 2012: motion for the debate

[3] Masson, J, Pearce, J and Bader, K, with Joyner, O, Marsden, J and Westlake, D, Care Profiling Study Research Series 4/08 (2008) London: Ministry of Justice

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