VULNERABLE WITNESSES

Naomi Mason, Communicourt’s Director, has achieved high acclaim as a Registered Intermediary (RI) with the Ministry of Justice, and has facilitated communication in over 200 criminal and civil cases.

If it had not been for the extremely impressive and dedicated involvement of Naomi Mason, a Registered Intermediary with considerable experience of facilitating the evidence of vulnerable witnesses in the criminal and family courts, in all probability, X would have found it quite simply impossible to say as much as she did.” Mrs Justice Pauffley  July 2013

She offers practical support and training to Police Officers across England and Wales, currently contributing to Investigative Interview training of five forces.

Her down-to-earth approach combined with her passion to ensure justice for the most vulnerable members of our society contribute to highly effective team working.

Who are Registered Intermediaries, and what do they do?

A Registered Intermediary(RI) facilitates communication between a witness/suspect and: –

o The Police

o Prosecution and Defence Teams

o The Court

This ensures that the communication process is as complete, coherent and accurate as possible.

The Intermediary is impartial and neutral and ultimately his/her duties to the court are paramount.

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.

Registered Intermediaries are not investigators and their role is not the same as appropriate adults, witness supporters or expert witnesses.

Who can have a Registered Intermediary?

In criminal proceedings, vulnerable witnesses may 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: witnesses who are 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. Witnesses under the age of 17 are automatically vulnerable witnesses and should always be considered for the full range of available special measures which includes intermediaries. Courts must approve the use of an intermediary on a case by case basis.

Is the RI 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 primary responsibility is to the court.

What happens first?

You will need to request the services of a Registered Intermediary by contacting the Witness Intermediary Scheme at  NCA. They keep a database of around 100 Registered Intermediaries.   (Police Officers will find the Request for Service form on the intranet for your force).  The Matching Team will then match the needs of the witness with most appropriate Registered Intermediary in terms of skills, availability and geographical distance.

The Registered Intermediary will contact you to arrange to meet up. It is helpful if you can tell the intermediary all you can about the witness’s communication skills, and the contact details for you, and any other people that may be able to help e.g. social worker, Community Psychiatric Nurse, Psychologist, Teacher.

What happens next?

The intermediary will meet with you, and have a look at any reports or other information you have gathered about the witness’s communication. You will then need to introduce the intermediary to the witness so that an assessment of their communication skills and difficulties can begin.

What kind of assessment is it?

What the Registered Intermediary will be looking at is how the person communicates, what difficulties they may have in understanding questions or communicating their answers, and what strategies seem to help best in enabling them to give best evidence.

They will use a range of assessment tools – perhaps pictures and objects too. They will engage the witness in conversation, structuring it to check out how he/she copes with different kinds of questions and trying different ways of communicating to see what works best,

It may take one or more sessions to complete an assessment, depending on the complexity of the communication difficulty, and the attention span of the witness.

Does the interviewing police officer need to be involved with the assessment?

Not necessarily, but preferably.  By watching the intermediary assess the witness’s skills you will see for yourself what the weaknesses are (and what works well) and this will assist you greatly when you come to interview.

Can the assessment and ABE interview happen on the same day?

Sometimes, but not usually because:

1. The assessment process is tiring, because it tests the person to the level that is the most difficult for them. Being tired after assessment may affect the quality of the evidence at interview.

2. Some of the assessments may allow the person to “guess” at the answer. This is quite different from what we want them to do at interview. So it is useful to have a different occasion, and location, to introduce a different set of ground rules.

3. Following assessment, the intermediary will need time to evaluate the assessment results, and make recommendations based on the assessment. Only then can effective interview planning take place. Ideally the intermediary will write a comprehensive report, which would take a few hours to complete.

What happens at the interview?

That will depend on the planning!  Experience has shown that good planning makes a big difference to how much help a Registered Intermediary can offer.

What happens next?

You will need to keep the RI updated about the progress of the case, and any Pre trial meetings that are taking place. It is helpful for the RI to attend to attend any hearings to explain the role and recommendations. Intermediaries also assist with pre trial visits to court, to help the witness understand what he is being told, and to help him ask any questions he wants to ask.

Do you need a Registered  Intermediary?

If you need a RI for a vulnerable witness, your next step is to contact the Specialist Operations Centre within NCA on 01480 033 4728, or email nca@nca.pnn.police.uk and ask for a REQUEST FOR SERVICE FORM.  They keep a database of Registered Intermediaries and will then match the needs of the witness to the skills of the Registered Intermediaries based across the country.

If you need an intermediary for a DEFENDANT,  Communicourt can offer a professionally trained intermediary.  Just contact us direct and we will happily advise.

Or if you would simply like to have an informal chat/advice about your case, just call Naomi on 0121 663 0931 and she will do her very best to help.

What others said:

 “Can I take this opportunity to thank you so, so much for your assistance with this enquiry.  your expertise and experience were invaluable and it was a pleasure to work with you”

DC  Sarah Manton, West Midlands Police, July 2010

 It was a real joy to work with someone so talented in their field.  You show a great passion for your work.  I hope our paths cross again”

PC Suki Kharaud, West Midlands Police, October 2010

 “I was so pleased and proud for you over the Derbyshire case that was reported by CPS.  This is another case where you must have felt you really made a difference.  Well done!

Joyce Plotnikoff, Lexicon Ltd , September 2006

 The intermediary can assist counsel to phrase their questions appropriately or simply and if counsel cannot do this and the witness fails to understand/misunderstands the question, then the intermediary can put the puestion in a way that is understood.  In this trial Ms Mason did that several times, each time achieving an answer where counsel had failed.  Ms Mason’s interventions were always appropriate in my opinion and helpful. The Intermediary’s report was most helpful. “

Judge Christopher Critchlow, R v Lawrence, 2005

 “In follow-up to your case in Manchester Crown Court this week, I wanted to write to thank you. We don’t have a formal way of recognising efforts which go “above and beyond the call of duty” but you clearly did this in this case.  The team would like to thank you for what you have done for the witnesses in this case and the Intermediary Service generally”

Tim Wright, Witness Intermediaries Scheme, Office for Criminal Justice Reform