Are you on the HMCTS Appointed Intermediary Service Framework?
Yes, we are a Managed and Approved Service Provider
How do I make a referral to book an intermediary for my client?
We have an online portal for all referrals. It is easy to set up and matches the HMCTS system. There is no need to complete a separate HMCTS Attendance Booking form, your referrals can all be completed and tracked through our online portal.
Who funds an intermediary?
The services provided by our intermediaries are mostly funded by HMCTS or the Legal Aid Agency, with no charges or payments required from legal representatives. All of our fees are in line with those set by HMCTS.
How long does it take to book an intermediary?
Once you have funding in place, we will try to do your assessment as quickly as possible. Remote assessments can often be completed quicker and we often have last minute availability due to cancelled court hearings.
Do your intermediaries work for Communicourt full time?
Yes, we have found through experience that the only way to run an efficient service is to have all our intermediaries salaried. So many trials crack, adjourn, or overrun, and we need to know we have someone available.
This also means that our intermediaries are under no pressure to make specific recommendations to the courts and have time and support to be practitioners which is what they do best. The intermediaries are organised into management teams for regular supervision and skills development.
What qualifications and training do Communicourt intermediaries have?
Our intermediaries have a relevant degree (usually Speech and Language Therapy or Psychology) and are recruited for their specialist skills in swift rapport building, clear thinking, and ability to relate theory of communication disability to practice.
Our externally accredited Intermediary Development Programme lasts around six to nine months. This includes classroom training, observations of other intermediaries, and regular clinical supervision with their manager.
We also have a CPD programme including monthly online training sessions and eight training weekends a year.
What happens when I refer a client?
When you make a referral through our portal and have secured funding, we will book an assessment for your client. An assessment can be done remotely or in-person, it takes up to three hours and is taken entirely at the pace of your client. We use different tasks to assess someone’s communication skills, their attention and listening, their memory, and their reading and writing skills.
Where do assessments take place?
In-person assessments must take place in a professional setting, and not a home address. Our intermediaries are often working on their own and we have a duty of care to ensure the environments they are working in are as safe as possible. We cannot fulfil that duty of care if the setting is a residential address. Furthermore, any issues that arise can be addressed immediately if another professional is present.
We understand asking your client to attend a solicitor’s office or court for an assessment can cause anxiety for them. Although we do not wish to cause unnecessary distress, it is likely this environment will give us a more accurate depiction of what their communications skills are like in a formal setting.
What happens if my client does not attend an assessment?
If your client does not attend the assessment, we may still need to charge for the session in line with the HMCTS fees. Even if your client does not attend, the intermediary may have spent time reading previous reports and preparing for the assessment.
Depending on the circumstances, to reschedule the assessment you may need to complete a new booking form or apply for additional funding.
My client already has an external intermediary report, can you use this?
Possibly, however these need to be checked by one of our intermediaries before we can issue booking forms as they may recommend that further assessment is needed before court proceedings begin. We may recommend a new assessment is needed to ensure we provide the best service to your client and the courts.
Can one intermediary assist two clients at the same time?
No, because their communication profiles will be different.
Can I book the same intermediary for my client’s assessment and trial?
Our calendar changes rapidly to meet the demands of the courts and we work on a first come, first serve basis. We do all we can to ensure consistency and assign the same intermediary from assessment through to trial. However, our intermediaries work with a number of service users and it may be that an intermediary who assessed your client is on another trial when your client’s trial dates are set. All of our intermediaries are trained to the same high standard, and they are all skilled at building rapport quickly with service users.
We produce high quality assessment and case notes for each service user we work with. If we cannot provide the same intermediary from assessment to trial, we can ensure there is a robust and thorough handover to another intermediary in our team.
Why won’t Communicourt take a court booking until after the assessment and report are prepared?
The assessment is to give an opinion on how your client might best be helped to participate in the proceedings, and to give clear and coherent evidence.
The recommendation may be that your client would benefit from an intermediary during the trial/hearing, and if so, what the role of the intermediary would be. However, for example in the criminal court, in 24% of the assessments we carry out, we do not recommend an intermediary.
Why would you not recommend an intermediary?
This may be for several reasons:
- The assessor may feel that your client’s communication is adequate and can be managed within the court, provided their legal team are aware of their difficulties. The report may refer to the Advocates Gateway toolkits and make a couple of other recommendations specific to your client.
- Your client’s communication needs may be very severe, and even with a highly skilled intermediary it will be impossible to explain complex concepts at a linguistic level they can understand.
- The intermediary, during assessment, was unable to establish effective strategies that will assist communication and ensure effective participation.
- Your client requires help with emotional management rather than communication skills, and this can be done by a supporter rather than an intermediary
Could we just use a supporter, advocate, or family member, rather than an intermediary?
Support workers and advocates are not trained communication specialists. A supporter, advocate, or family member can help if your client needs general support and reassurance. However, it may of course be difficult for such a person to remain impartial. They may not have knowledge about how courts work, legal concepts, and confidence to intervene in the complex process of cross examination.
When might you advise having an intermediary for the whole of the trial?
If the assessment indicates your client’s receptive language is at a level where they will not be able to understand conferences/what is going on in court without the help of an intermediary. The recommendations are likely to be that they have an intermediary for the prosecution case, and until at least after they have given his evidence.
Communicourt appreciates the financial impact, but the assessor’s views about what that person will or will not be able to understand cannot change in the light of budgetary constraints. It is for the judge/magistrates to decide what action to take in the light of that specialist opinion.
There are further important differences when working with someone with a learning disability/cognitive deficits. This will not only be a matter of simplifying the language used, but also breaking down and explaining complex concepts, eg:
- Time and number concepts
- Plea bargains
- The impact/consequences of pleading guilty
- Bad character evidence
- Decision about whether to give evidence
A Communicourt intermediary will be knowledgeable about a range of communication disabilities and how these may impact in the court environment. They will be skilled in using a range of techniques to explain complex concepts, including visual aids, choice/decision boards, and timelines.
What about when my client gives evidence?
When (and if) your client chooses to give evidence, an intermediary is able to assist counsel in how to phrase questions to maximise the clarity and coherence of their evidence.
It is vital that the presence of an intermediary does not affect the impact of the cross examination, nor must the intermediary shield your client from difficult questions.
Our experience shows that just under half of the service users we work with opt to give oral evidence. A vital role of an intermediary is to assist your client to understand their options, and the consequences of that decision.
Do you work with Litigants in Person (LIPs)?
We can work with Litigants in Person. Our role is only to facilitate communication with the service user, including assisting them to communicate with others within the court environment. We are not qualified to give legal advice, but to assist with any explanation of legal processes, procedures and arguments in the presence of a professional who is qualified to give legal advice
What is a ‘hidden disability’?
Communication difficulties may affect receptive or expressive language, or both.
Difficulties with expressive language/speech are often easy to spot – your client may not have a wide enough vocabulary to express themselves clearly, or may have difficulties in forming sentences and narratives. In addition, they may have difficulties pronouncing words, or may be dysfluent (stammer).
Receptive difficulties are often hidden. People with a learning disability, for example, may not know/understand the meaning of many words which we consider to be commonly used. A limited working memory capacity will mean that they can only retain and process information presented in short chunks at a time. They may misunderstand more complex sentence types, without realising they have misunderstood.
These difficulties often go unnoticed until formal assessment. People with communication difficulties will often not realise they have misunderstood or will not say that they have not understood.