The role of intermediaries in youth crime
Posted on 18th March 2019
Intermediaries are generally qualified Speech and Language Therapists or Psychologists (often Child Psychologists) who are able to assist a suspect or Defendant with communication during a trial and sometimes during a police investigation interview.
They are qualified professionals who are registered with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).
Why are intermediaries important?
This assistance or “ Special Measure “ is particularly important to support youths during their trials, in order to ensure that they can understand questions put to them and articulate their own account of what happened; in order to improve the quality of the evidence they give, and in order for the youth to be able to fully participate in their trial. To ascertain how best to achieve this, the Intermediary will carry out a face to face assessment and write a report for the Defence Lawyers and the Court. This assessment will be funded by Legal Aid.
The Intermediary is independent and not on the side of the Prosecution or Defence.
Vulnerable Youths with special education needs; speech and language impairment or a learning disability are likely to need the assistance of an Intermediary in their trial. Similarly those with conditions such as Autism Spectrum (including Asperger’s Syndrome); ADHD or a Mental Health Condition will normally require such help.
The Assessment Report
The Assessment Report is used to support an Application for the grant and appointment of an Intermediary to assist the Youth in Court. This application is made to the Magistrates or Judge in Court and is usually granted where supported by such a report. The appointment is sometimes limited to the period when the Youth gives evidence, but the Intermediary can be appointed to assist for the whole of the trial.
Recommendations from Intermediaries
Intermediaries who have been appointed by the Court can make recommendations to the Court as to how the questions should be worded in Court (often being asked to approve in advance the questions which are to put to the youth by both the Prosecution and Defence Lawyers in Court). They will explain the need for simple clear language to be used, questions to be asked one at a time and sufficient time being given for a response. They can request maximum time limits for questioning and that no leading tag questions are asked in which the answer is implied, e.g. ending “ that’s right isn’t it? “
They can also make recommendations for adjustments to be made during the trial on issues such as where the youth and Intermediary should sit and the need for and frequency of breaks.
These recommendations and adjustments are discussed and agreed by the Judge in what is known as a “Ground Rules “Hearing, which takes place before the trial begins.
The use of intermediaries
The availability and legal right to an Intermediary for a Defendant is not set out in any legal statute or rules. There is a legal basis for the appointment of an Intermediary to assist a vulnerable victim or Prosecution Witness. This does not apply automatically to a Defendant. However the Judge has power to grant an Intermediary from his or her general powers.
It is therefore vital that Criminal Defence Solicitors representing youths are experienced in such matters and are able to identify those youths who may need such help. The MOJ list of Registered Intermediaries is only available to the Police and Crown Prosecution Service who have first call and access to the Intermediaries. It is important that Solicitors undertaking this area of work have the professional profiles and contact details for the most experienced Intermediaries. Some Intermediaries have specialist skills in dealing with youths and with their different and complex individual needs. There are agencies who can supply Intermediaries and charitable organisations such as “Intermediaries for Justice” run by committed Intermediaries who can assist.
Intermediaries can also be appointed to assist Vulnerable Adults.
The team of criminal solicitors specialising youth crime at Hodge Jones & Allen regularly instruct Intermediaries to assist our youth clients in Court. We have the knowledge of the special needs of youths; vast experience of the procedures for obtaining such assistance; and quick and direct access to the most experienced and committed Intermediaries to help our youth clients.