Intermediary Role 2 (1)

Family justice: Understanding the role of an intermediary

Published: 26/08/2021

Author: Kerry Chatterje

I have worked for Triangle as an Intermediary since successfully completing their in-depth training course in December 2015. Triangle specialise in working with children and young people up to the age of 30.

In the last 21 years we have worked with over 10,000 children and young people across the UK, through intermediary, advocacy, consultancy, specialist support, interviewing and expert opinion services.

I have personally assisted over 260 young people in various court settings during my time with Triangle. I now also co-manage Triangle’s intermediary service, with a focus on criminal work. Triangle intermediaries work across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has a different legal system).

What is an intermediary?

Intermediaries facilitate communication between a witness, party, suspect or defendant and others in the justice process to ensure that communication is as complete, coherent and accurate as possible. We are impartial and neutral; our duty is always to the court.

There are two types of intermediaries, those trained by the Ministry of Justice (Registered Intermediaries) who work with witnesses in criminal trials, and independently trained intermediaries (soon to be called Court Appointed Intermediaries) who work with defendants or with parents and children in family proceedings; I am the latter.

It is a privilege to work in a role which is quite niche, but also be involved in cases that not many people are allowed access to; family hearings and youth trials, for example, are always held in closed court with no public access.

Working as an intermediary is certainly not for anyone who wants a 9-5 job; it is unpredictable and unreliable and so very difficult to plan around. As I write this, I should have been in court, working on a five day hearing which finished on day one.

The intermediary process

The intermediary process is quite different for family and criminal work but every case starts with an assessment of the young person’s communication needs and abilities. This is not just an assessment of receptive and expressive communication (how someone understands and conveys information) but also looks at how we may need to assist with managing their emotional state in court. Assessments are usually carried out at a solicitor’s office, although during the pandemic, we have had to adapt the way we work and we have successfully assessed using various video platforms.

If a young person is remanded into custody, we may assess in the prison or secure unit, or even in the cells at the court! If the assessment is done at very short notice, we may be required to go straight into a trial or hearing and give verbal recommendations. We would usually be provided with some background information but this varies widely, it may be a psychological report or it may be a complete court bundle.

We will then write a report for the court, setting out our recommendations for communication in court and legal meetings. This will include the need for breaks, type and length of questions, things to be avoided, and will take into account any medical diagnosis and how that may affect communication.

Our reports are person-centred and pertinent to the individual. Despite our recommendations, it is ultimately the Judge’s decision whether they appoint an intermediary or not. If the Judge allows an intermediary, there should always be a Ground Rules Hearing between the Judge, advocates and intermediary to go through the recommendations to discuss, and agree them; unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Attending court

In criminal cases it is common to not see the young person again until the trial. If the Judge has allowed an intermediary for the whole trial, once sworn, we will sit in the dock with the defendant and make real-time explanations, take notes, note any questions they have for their barrister, provide calming objects for them to handle, ensure the break schedule is adhered to or request unscheduled breaks where necessary.

We will be involved in legal meetings and ensure the young person is able to understand what is being said to them so that they are able to give their instructions. When they give evidence, we will go into the witness box with them (or stand close by) and ensure that the agreed recommendations for questioning are adhered to, we can intervene if they are not. In this scenario, we would usually be at court until the jury returns a verdict; it is unusual for us to be allowed for sentencing, but it does happen.

If the Judge decides we can be there for evidence only, then we would only attend on the day(s) the young person is giving their evidence, and having been sworn we would go directly to the witness box with them. Once they have given their evidence, our role is complete.

I have never known a Judge in a family case refuse to allow an intermediary. We would be much more involved in family cases as we would usually attend all of the case management hearings as well as fact finding and final hearings. We would provide the same support as detailed above but over a longer period of time if we are working with parents.

Assessment

If we are working with a child as a witness in family proceedings, we would carry out the communication assessment and make recommendations as usual; these may also include having questions provided in advance to be reviewed by the intermediary, giving evidence via live-link, with screens, or pre-recorded. If they have done an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview there is the option for them to be cross examined with pre-agreed questions in a recorded interview. We may also make recommendations for how and where they watch their ABE interview, and whether they meet the Judge and advocates prior to cross examination.

To put it simply, if our assessment findings indicate that the young person would benefit from something to assist with their communication and to help them to get through the experience of being in court, we can make recommendations about it.

We can also assist in police interviews with suspects. Again, we would carry out a communication assessment so that we know what the young person’s communication abilities are, and make recommendations for questioning and breaks.

We would then be present during the caution and ensure the young person understands it, if not, they can’t be interviewed. I have attended four suspect interviews; three of which never progressed to an interview, because the caution wasn’t understood. The one that did go ahead was for a serious offence and was a long process over two days initially, and then a further day when more evidence was gathered.

Overall being an intermediary is a very interesting and rewarding job as long as you can cope with things being arranged, rearranged, or cancelled at the last minute.

Kerry Chatterje

Kerry Chatterje

Kerry Chatterje has worked as an Intermediary for an organisation called Triangle since successfully completing their in-depth training course in December 2015. She has personally assisted over 260 young people in various court settings.

Intermediary Role (1)

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