Registered intermediaries’ assessment of children’s communication: An exploration of aims and processes

Publication Date01 October 2020
AuthorSarah Krahenbuhl,Kimberly Collins
Date01 October 2020
EPJ952335 374..395 Article
The International Journal of
Evidence & Proof
Registered intermediaries’
2020, Vol. 24(4) 374–395
ª The Author(s) 2020
assessment of children’s
Article reuse guidelines:
communication: An exploration
DOI: 10.1177/1365712720952335
of aims and processes
Kimberly Collins
Teesside University, Campus Heart, Southfield Rd, Middlesbrough, UK
Sarah Krahenbuhl
Science Centre, Staffordshire University, Leek Road, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Following the implementation of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 for England
and Wales, Registered Intermediaries have been available to assist child witness communica-
tion in legal proceedings since 2004. Registered Intermediaries are given training to fulfil this
role. However, their assessments and practices are conducted independently. This study
examined Registered Intermediaries’ perceptions and experiences of this independent prac-
tice, and the impact this had on the quality of the legal process in terms of evidential quality,
child witness experiences and engagement. Seventeen experienced and currently active Reg-
istered Intermediaries with a range of communication specialisms took part in semi-structured
interviews, which were analysed thematically. Six main themes emerged from the data:
assessment constraints and requirements, essential elements of the assessment process, why
the assessment process is effective, ensuring recommendations are followed through, pres-
sures and barriers, and practice development. The Registered Intermediaries stressed the need
for further training for themselves as well as for legal professionals, and emphasised the
benefits of working as a team throughout the assessment and legal process.
assessment, children, communication, registered intermediaries
Many vulnerable witnesses will be involved in legal proceedings. Whilst Bull (2010) states that there is
no generally agreed definition of the term ‘vulnerable’, there is a focus on vulnerable groups such as
children and those with learning disabilities. On an individual level Gudjonsson (2006) defines vulner-
abilities as ‘psychological characteristics or mental state which render a witness prone, in certain
Corresponding author:
Sarah Krahenbuhl, Science Centre, Staffordshire University, Leek Road, Stoke-on-Trent ST4 2DE, UK.

Collins and Krahenbuhl
circumstances, to providing information that is inaccurate, unreliable or misleading’ (2006: 68). Gud-
jonsson (2010) states that vulnerabilities do not necessarily equate with unreliability in witnesses but
may present as a ‘risk factor’ for which assessment is required, and, if necessary, the witness must be
provided with specialised assistance in order to meet competency requirements. In relation to the
competency requirements for children, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 for England
and Wales states that a child is not competent to give evidence if it appears to the court that s/he is not
able to ‘understand questions put to him as a witness’, and ‘give answers to them, which can be
understood’ (s. 53[3]). This places the emphasis for competency on the child’s ability to communicate
at a sufficient level of understanding, for which assistance may be required (Marchant, 2013). The Youth
Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 for England and Wales includes provision for appropriate
assistance in the form of ‘special measures’. The special measures available to vulnerable (or intimi-
dated) witnesses include: the use of screens in court, the use of video recorded interviews as evidence-in-
chief, use of live TV link for cross-examination, removal of wigs and gowns of legal professionals, and
also confers eligibility for assistance in communication, through use of an intermediary and/or other
communication aids.
Section 104 of the Coroners and Justice Act for England and Wales states that intermediaries may
assist vulnerable defendants’ communication needs (Cooper and Wurtzel, 2013; Criminal Practice
Directions 3D.2, 2019; see O’Mahony, 2009). At present this section has not yet been implemented,
though a judge may use his or her inherent jurisdiction to appoint an intermediary to a vulnerable
defendant. Those intermediaries who work with defendants do so as non-registered intermediaries.
Intermediaries who work with vulnerable witnesses are trained and accredited via the Ministry of Justice
and are known as Registered Intermediaries (RI). The role of the RI is impartial and is to facilitate
communication between the witness and other legal professionals, through assessment and provision of
recommendations in accordance with the needs of the individual witness (Ministry of Justice, 2019a;
O’Mahony, Smith and Milne, 2011). Specifically, it is stated that ‘the role of Registered Intermediaries
in the scheme is to assist two-way communication between the police or court and complainants or
witnesses with communication needs’ (Ministry of Justice, 2019a, p. 5). This involves helping the child
or vulnerable person understand the questions that are asked, and helping legal professionals understand
the answers given. The ultimate aim is to ensure that the evidence elicited is as complete, coherent and
accurate as possible.
The identification of a vulnerable witness may be based on age (under 18 years), or for any other
witness whose quality of evidence is likely to be diminished due to a mental disorder, a learning
disability or a physical disability (Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 for England and
Wales, ss. 16[1] and 16[2]). This suggests that all children, by virtue of their age alone, can be considered
vulnerable, though it is possible that some children may also have additional vulnerabilities. Access to
intermediary assistance is not, however, automatic. If it is deemed appropriate that the witness requires
such assistance the investigative officer, or the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, needs
to proactively submit a request for an RI through the Witness Intermediary Scheme (WIS). The WIS for
vulnerable witnesses has been available across England and Wales since 2004, with similar schemes
initiated in other countries (Cooper and Mattison, 2017; and see Spencer and Lamb, 2012 for discussion
of RI schemes in Austria, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Israel and South Africa). RIs in England and
Wales have a range of different professional backgrounds such as speech and language therapists,
psychologists, social workers, schoolteachers, etc. All RIs are specialists in communication and are
recruited, trained and accredited by the Ministry of Justice.
RI training and practice
Procedural guidance for the RI role is given in a manual (Ministry of Justice, 2019b) that provides ethical
and procedural codes by which all RIs must abide and presents developments in procedures as well as
best practice. In addition, the manual advises how to conduct a case, report-writing, how to support a

The International Journal of Evidence & Proof 24(4)
witness in court, the role of the RI at later stages in a case, safeguarding for professionals, and provides
further information and resources. There is also a section on the governance of the WIS and the two
boards that govern the scheme. The Intermediaries Registration Board ‘brings together key stakeholders
from across the criminal justice system’ [to focus on] ‘the strategic direction, policy management and
operation of the Witness Intermediary Scheme’ (p. 8). The Quality Assurance Board ‘brings together
individuals with substantial professional experience in the field of regulation and quality assurance’ (p.
8). This board ensures that RIs follow the code of practice and ethics, has oversight of complaints against
RIs, agrees the standards for recruitment, training, accreditation and continuing professional develop-
ment, and ensures consistency and quality with regard to RI practice.
RI training takes place face-to-face during seven days over two weeks. The training includes class-
room presentations and discussion using real-life case studies, a visit to an interview suite with an RI and
a police officer and a visit to a court with input from a judge. Other criminal justice system personnel are
invited to join the sessions at appropriate times. This has included the National Crime Agency, police,
Crown Prosecution Service, advocates, and the judiciary. Pre-course reading is required to make face-to-
face teaching more effective. The trainees are asked to read documents including the RI Procedural
Guidance Manual (Ministry of Justice, 2019b) and other relevant material prior to each different module.
In addition, prior to the course, the trainees have to choose a case relevant to their expertise from a
number of cases based on real cases offered to them by the Training Group. On the final day the trainees
learn about some of the practical issues relating to RI work, for example safeguarding, consent, data
protection, etc.
The trainees have to successfully complete five assessments before being accredited by the Ministry
of Justice, which include a multiple-choice questionnaire, preparation of recommendations for an
Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview (Ministry of Justice, 2011), writing a report and amending
cross-examination questions as appropriate to a selected case. The trainees are also asked to deliver a 20-
minute presentation to a panel about what they have learned on the course relevant to the case, how this

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