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Individual differences |
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Intermediaries – a voice for vulnerable witnesses
Who are intermediaries and what do they do?
Sec 29 of the Youth and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides for the examination of a witness to be conducted by an intermediary approved by the courts. The measure will assist vulnerable witnesses who have profound communication difficulties.
An intermediary is someone who the court approves to communicate to the witness the questions that the court, the defence and the prosecution ream ask, and to communicate the answers the witness gives in response. The intermediary is allowed to explain the questions or answers so far as is necessary to enable them to be understood by the witness or the questioner but without changing the substance of the evidence. They are a conduit for communication with the witness. They may act during the investigation stage or at trial.
Why are intermediaries necessary?
Victims and witnesses with profound communication difficulties may not be able to give evidence unaided. Intermediaries will assist them in communicating in an investigation and at trial. They will help to make the justice process accessible to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
When will intermediaries be introduced?
These provisions are new and will be tested out in pilot areas before national implementation. Work is now being carried out in preparation for the first pilot area to go live at the end of 2003. This work includes setting up a central register of intermediaries and a body – the Intermediary Registration Board (IRB) – to oversee it.
What is the intermediary registration board?
The IRB is a new body that is being set up to oversee the intermediary registration scheme. The IRB council will consider strategic issues; the Assessment Committee sets the rules and criteria for assessment and re-assessment of intermediaries for registration; Assessment Panels will carry out the assessment of candidates for registration; and the Standards Committee will formulate arrangements for handling complaints against registered intermediaries.
Where are the pilots being run?
Six pilot areas will be phased in as the project progresses: Devon & Cornwall, Merseyside, Norfolk, South Wales, Thames Valley and West Midlands. Merseyside will be the first pilot area to go live; the precise timetable for bringing the other areas on line is still being discussed. The pilots will run for at least 12-18 months.
Does this mean that intermediaries must live in the pilot areas?
No. The register of intermediaries will be national. However, for practical reasons registered intermediaries would need to be available for intermediary duties in at least one of the pilot areas.
What is the process for becoming a registered intermediary?
Candidates for registration must complete an application form and submit this to the IRB Secretariat by 8 August 2003. IRB Assessment Panels will consider the applications and produce a shortlist for interview according to the criteria set by the IRB Assessment Committee. References will be taken up for shortlisted candidates. Assessment Panels will assess candidates’ competencies at interview and decide which candidates should progress to the next stage. Those successful candidates will then be provided with training on the fundamentals of criminal proceedings in England and Wales and the role of the intermediary. Participants must successfully complete this course before they can be registered. Candidates must also have appropriate clearance to work with vulnerable people including children before they can act as a registered intermediary.
What is the timescale for registration?
The deadline for applications is 8 August. Shortlisting will take place shortly after and interviews are planned to begin from 8 September. A series of training courses will run from October.
On what basis will candidates be assessed and shortlisted?
Candidates will be selected according to an assessment of their ability to meet a set of core competencies and on their specialist skills. Assessment Panels will decide which candidates possess these competencies. In shortlisting candidates they will also consider how best to meet the strategic recruitment criteria set by the Assessment Committee. The criteria include wide coverage of different types of communication difficulty and geographical coverage for the pilot areas.
Do I need to be a registered speech and language therapist to become an intermediary?
This is not a condition of registration as an intermediary. The application process is competence based and it is open to a wide range of people to apply on the basis of their programmes, membership of professional bodies and other experience will all be taken into account. Ultimately, intermediaries are sanctioned by the courts and their personal expertise and abilities will be open to legal challenge. Successful candidates for registration will have demonstrated that they are experts at facilitating communication with people who have communication difficulties and that they have the ability to operate effectively as intermediaries in criminal proceedings.
How long is the intermediary training course?
The training course lasts for 5 days. More information about dates and locations are set out in the Application Form Guidance Notes.
What are the core competencies for registration?
All candidates for registration must demonstrate how they meet the following core criteria:
Accurately and quickly assess individuals receptive and expressive communication difficulties: Using formal assessments, devising informal assessments and interpreting assessment findings to meet specific demands of the CJS.
Identify what communication strategies need to be employed in order to enable an individual to understand and participate in the CJS i.e. changes to the physical environment, level and manner of communication to be used by members of the CJS, and/or the individuals requirements for augmentative/alternative communication systems to enable them to express themselves.
Describe clearly to others individual communication difficulties including explanation of relevant factors such as cognitive ability, sensory impairment, emotional factors.
Explain and, where necessary, demonstrate the communication strategies that need to be employed in order to enable an individual to understand and participate.
Facilitate communication between and individual with communication difficulties and others i.e. identify where communication may have, or has, broken down, identify the possible causes and take action to repair the communication breakdown, as previously agreed with the individual and the other parties involved. Establish credibility within the criminal justice system.
Make decisions regarding the appropriateness of acting as an intermediary in specific situations.
Comply with a professional code of conduct or practise.
Candidates will also be required to specify their specialist areas of expertise.
Why is the register being limited to 60 intermediaries?
Until pilot areas go live we will not know what the level of demand for intermediaries will be, or the types of communication assistance required. We are establishing an initial register of 60 intermediaries to cover the main areas of communication difficulty. As the pilot’s progress we will monitor demand and consider whether more registered intermediaries are required.
What time commitments do registered intermediaries have to make?
It is not yet clear how many cases a registered intermediary might be asked to act in. However, because intermediaries will only be acting in cases where a witness has a serious communication difficulty, which means they would not be able to give evidence unassisted the numbers, are not expected to be very high. The demand for intermediaries is something that we will measure as the pilot’s progress.
Intermediary candidates will be required to attend a 5-day training course before registration. Registered intermediaries must be available to carry out intermediary duties in at least one of the pilot areas. This does not commit them to act in all cases where they have been identified as potential intermediary – each case will be decided individually by negotiation between the intermediary and the commissioning agency (e.g. the police).
Is any remuneration available?
Remuneration will be agreed individually according to guiding principles, which are currently being drawn up. As a general rule, if their employer is allowing a person to carry out intermediary duties during their normal working hours then an offer of reimbursement will be made to the employer in preference to a fee being paid direct to the intermediary. Travel and subsistence expenses will be available and overnight stays may be authorised by prior agreement with the IRB secretariat.
How will intermediaries be matched to witnesses?
The IRB Secretariat will hold details of registered intermediaries and their skill areas on a central register. This will be used to identify potential matches with witnesses. The commissioning agency (e.g. police, CPS) will then contact the intermediary direct to discuss the case.
Who will qualify for the use of an intermediary?
In criminal proceedings, vulnerable witnesses (excluding defendants) will be able to apply for a range of ‘special measures’ including examination through an intermediary. The definition of a vulnerable witness (section 16 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999) covers: children under the age of 17; and those who suffer from a mental disorder or significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning or have a physical disorder or condition that is likely to affect their evidence.
In considering whether special measures are appropriate, the court must determine whether they would be likely to improve the quality of evidence given by the witness and, if so, determine which measures would be likely to maximise, so far as is practicable, the quality of whether the use of any special measures might inhibit the testing of the evidence. It is anticipated that the use of an intermediary will only be approved where a witness has a serious communication difficulty affecting their ability to give evidence.
Will deaf people qualify for intermediaries?
Deaf witnesses may, or may not, require an intermediary. Certain arrangements already exist for the provision in court of interpreters for the deaf – these may be British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters or Relay interpreters. The introduction of intermediaries will complement rather than replace the existing arrangements. Either or both BSL and relay interpreters could qualify as an intermediary if they undergo the required intermediary training.
Will the intermediary be on the side of the prosecution or the defence?
Although initial contact is likely to be with the police or another justice agency the duty of the intermediary is not to act on behalf of the prosecution, defence or even the witness. Intermediaries are neutral and their responsibility is to the court.
Will people who are not registered as intermediaries be able to act as intermediaries. Will this include a regular carer of the witness or a relative?
Yes, but only if a registered intermediary is not available – for example, if there is no-one registered who has the specific communication skills required. In these circumstances, another person can be appointed to act as an intermediary provided that they can satisfy the high standard of communication facilitation skills required. They will need to demonstrate the same core competencies as registered intermediaries.
The person acting as an unregistered intermediary will be given a specially designed learning pack which explains the roles and responsibilities of acting as an intermediary as well as some practical advice about what to expect from being in a court environment. It is envisaged that either the police or the prosecution or defence team, and possibly others such as voluntary organisations, will be involved in helping the unregistered intermediary through the learning pack.
An unregistered intermediary will still be required to remain neutral and their responsibility will still be to the court. Relatives and friends should only be used when all other options have been exhausted because they are more likely to be challenged on ground of competence and because of their closeness to the witness.