Intermediaries in Chile: Facilitating the right of child victims and witnesses to participate and be heard in criminal trials

AuthorRocío Acosta,Nicolás Pietrasanta,Valentina Gabriela Ulloa
Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Intermediaries in Chile: Facilitating
the right of child victims and
witnesses to participate and be
heard in criminal trials
Valentina Gabriela Ulloa
Fundación Amparo y Justicia, Área de Estudios y Políticas Públicas, Santiago, Chile
Nicolás Pietrasanta
Fundación Amparo y Justicia, Área de Estudios y Políticas Públicas, Santiago, Chile
Rocío Acosta
Fundación Amparo y Justicia, Área de Formación, Santiago, Chile
The intermediary system is a special measure designed to support the participation of vulner-
able witnesses in the judicial system. In Chile, this model was initially incorporated in six
regions with the application of Law 21.057 in October 2019. The measure establishes that a
specially trained professional from the criminal justice system must facilitate communication
during a trial between the court and child victims or witnesses of sexual or other serious
crimes through the use of a linked room. This study analyses the perceptions of intermediaries
and other members of the justice system in relation to the rst year of implementation of the
intermediary system based on information obtained through the use of focus groups and a sur-
vey. The results show an overall positive assessment of the experiences with and functioning of
the judicial intermediationand portray some of the best practices and facilitating conditions
for the correct operation of the scheme as well as the difculties and challenges for other
Chilean regions and countries.
child-friendly justice, child victims, intermediary system, sexual crimes
Corresponding author:
Valentina Gabriela Ulloa, Fundación Amparo y Justicia, Área de Estudios y Políticas Públicas, Santiago, Chile.
The International Journal of
Evidence & Proof
2022, Vol. 26(3) 223248
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/13657127221095885
In October 2019, the rst stage of Law 21.057 was applied in Chile with the aim of preventing the sec-
ondary victimisation experienced by child and adolescent victims of sexual and other serious crimes
during the judicial process. The new policy implied the adaptation of institutional and interinstitutional
regulations, conditions and infrastructure, as well as the training of hundreds of ofcials from institutions
within the criminal justice system. The core measures of the law which were implemented were the intro-
duction of the videorecorded investigative interview in the investigation stage of these cases and the
incorporation of the intermediary system or intermediationof in-court testimonies.
In general, the intermediary system is designed to support and facilitate communication and under-
standing of vulnerable witnesses in the justice system (Cashmore and Shackel, 2018; United Kingdom
Ministry of Justice, 2020). Although special measures aimed at making criminal trials more child-friendly
have been in effect at the international level for decades, this specic measure is relatively recent and has
only been adopted by a small group of countries (Myers, 1996; Council of Europe, 2010). England,
Wales, Northern Ireland, some Australian states, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Africa, among
others, have implemented different schemes which vary in certain aspects, such as the mandatory use
of intermediaries, their functions and attributions, their eligibility and their profession. In Chile, the
model establishes that all child and adolescent victims and witnesses participating in criminal trials
must give their testimony in a special room with an accredited intermediary, namely a specially
trained judge, a police ofcer or a professional from a victims service.
International research about the functioning and effectiveness of the intermediary system is limited.
Some of the aforementioned countries have published studies that describe the operation of their
models. Although much of this literature reports difculties and challenges in the implementation of
the system, the main conclusion is that intermediaries are valuable in order to facilitate the best interests
of children as well as their right to be heard in judicial proceedings (e.g. Cashmore and Shackel, 2018;
Cooper and Mattison, 2017; Department of Justice Northern Ireland, 2016; Fambasayi and Koraan, 2018;
Henderson, 2015). This study provides results along the same line. The aim of this work is to describe the
experiences with the intermediary system in Chile during the rst stage of the implementation of Law
21.057 from the perspective of members of the criminal justice system from six regions one year after
its implementation.
The article starts with a brief overview of intermediary systems in the world, the available evidence
from Chile related to in-court testimony by child victims and witnesses prior to the implementation of
Law 21.057, and a description of the intermediary system that Law 21.057 incorporated. After a
review of the methodology, the results of the focus groups, interview and survey are presented, empha-
sising the assessments and experiences of professionals within the system as well as the facilitators and
challenges in the implementation of the scheme. The article concludes with a discussion of the ndings in
light of international research and some recommendations for the implementation of the intermediary
Intermediaries and communication assistance in the world
Testifying in court hearings has historically been one of the most adverse experiences for children and
adolescents who participate in criminal proceedings (Ellison and Munro, 2018; Plotnikoff and
Woolfson, 2009). Even for adults, judicial processes might be a considerably distressing experience.
Typically, attorneys and judges ask incomprehensible, intimidating or victimising questions in disregard
of the vulnerable condition of victims or witnesses (e.g. Andrews and Lamb, 2016; Davies et al., 2010).
This has long caused children and adolescents anxiety, shame, or fear (Fundación Amparo y Justicia,
2020). In addition, child witnesses or young people with special communication needs have to face
even harder challenges due to the failure of the justice systems to make appropriate adjustments to
224 The International Journal of Evidence & Proof 26(3)

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