An intermediary assesses a vulnerable defendant’s communication skills & makes recommendations to the court in relation to special measures to enable that defendant to participate effectively with the trial. These recommendations relate to their attention, understanding, communication and emotional regulation because they all impact a vulnerable person’s ability to participate to the best of their ability. Prior to and during the trial, an intermediary also makes recommendations on questioning in order to minimise any disruption to the flow of the proceedings.  

Research has shown that up to 66% of offenders have speech and language difficulties that need intervention and 45% of offenders have difficulties with understanding spoken language. Communication difficulties impact all aspects of life including the ability to make informed legal choices, decisions relating to education, work and social relations. However currently no legislation relating to special measures for defendants exists and as a result many may go through the penal system not understanding the process or impact of what they have experienced.

Vulnerable witnesses are provided for by the Ministry of Justice’s Witness Intermediary Scheme which offers Registered Intermediaries to assist at investigation and trial. There is no similar national scheme for defendants. A discrepancy therefore exists between vulnerable defendants and witnesses. 

Section 104 of the Coroners and Justice Act does allow for examination of a vulnerable defendant by an intermediary however this has not been implemented as yet. Appreciating the discrepancy between vulnerable defendants and vulnerable witnesses, some judges however have allowed for defendants to be examined using an intermediary e.g. R v Sevenoaks Youth court [2009] EWHC where the judge ruled that, “steps are necessary to ensure that the defendant has a fair trial, not just during the proceedings, but beforehand”.  

If there is a query about a vulnerable defendant’s understanding and communication and you would like an intermediary to give you an opinion, please contact the most appropriate intermediary on the ‘Find an Intermediary’ page of this web site