Communicourt referral data has revealed far lower rates of intermediary allocation in the North of England, particularly in the North East.

We have identified that court users with communication needs in the North East are three times less likely to be referred to an intermediary service, compared to the South East. Intermediaries are fully funded by HMCTS or Legal Aid, however the service is still being underused.

An intermediary’s job is to help someone communicate effectively at court, and we support solicitors to communicate with their clients. We work with defendants in criminal courts and respondents in family courts.

Communication needs may be part of a diagnosed condition, such as learning disabilities, ADHD, or a brain injury. More often clients do not have a diagnosed condition, and their communication needs are often overlooked. Communication needs present themselves in different ways. Your client may appear to have difficulty understanding what you are saying to them. They might struggle to focus or give instructions. An intermediary will assess your client’s communication and language processing skills. They will make recommendations to help your client participate fully in their proceedings.

A stark gap

We compared a range of indicators of communication need against Communicourt intermediary allocation data in key regions across England.

Mental health referrals vs. Communicourt referrals

Our research demonstrated higher numbers of mental health referrals in the North West and particularly the North East compared to other regions. Despite elevated mental health referrals (NHS, 2022), these regions had markedly lower Communicourt referral rates, with 46 referrals per 10,000 cases in the North East, compared to 113 referrals per 10,000 cases in the South East of England.

Mental health needs do not always correlate with communication difficulties, however, many individuals who have mental health difficulties may also have communication needs. Common diagnoses such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and personality disorder can all negatively impact communication.

An individual with severe anxiety, for example, may have considerable difficulty managing their emotions in a court setting, resulting in difficulty attending to, processing and retaining key information about their case. They may also have considerable difficulty expressing their views with clarity when giving legal instructions or giving evidence from the witness box.

Adult social care referrals vs. Communicourt referrals

The gulf between adult social care referrals (NHS, 2021) and Communicourt referrals in the North of England is also significant, continuing the pattern of higher need and lower intermediary allocation.

Individuals referred to adult social care will not always have a communication difficulty. However, communication needs are often higher within this group. Most local authority eligibility criteria for adult social care stipulate that the individual must have adult “a condition as a result of physical, mental, sensory, learning or cognitive disabilities or illnesses, substance misuse or brain injury” (Social Care Institute for Excellence, 2022).

Individuals with a learning disability, cognitive disability, brain injury or sensory needs often experience communication difficulties which negatively impact their participation in court proceedings. An individual with a mild learning disability, for example, may have difficulty understanding ‘less common’ words (including court terminology), processing long stretches of complex verbal information, retaining information, expressing themselves with clarity, understanding complex question types, challenging forceful question types and independently requesting support when they do not understand.

A growing divide

The apparent gap between communication needs and intermediary referrals in the North East and North West is likely to grow, increasing inequality in access to justice. We used a linear regression model to explore the outlook for intermediary provision across England and Wales. The model indicated that, if current trends continue, the gap between levels of communication need and intermediary allocation will continue to widen in the North of England. This would leave many more people who require assistance to achieve meaningful access to justice without intermediary support.

Our goal is to close the Access to Justice gap, by improving awareness of communication needs and the intermediary role in the North East and North West. For more information about identifying communication needs in your clients, how an intermediary can assist throughout legal proceedings and how to arrange intermediary assistance, please explore our free resources for legal professionals on The Access Brief or contact the Communicourt team today.


National Health Service (NHS) – Adult Social Care Activity and Finance Report, England (2020-21),, Accessed: August 2022.

National Health Service (NHS) – Mental Health Dashboard,, Accessed: August 2022.

Social Care Institute for Excellence website,, Accessed: September 2022

Sport England (2016) Mapping Disability: The Facts,, Accessed: August 2022