Building confidence through experience and peer support

We asked our intermediaries to tell us about the most common challenges they face in their roles. Rebecca discusses how daunting the intermediary role can be, and how support from her colleagues helped her to build her confidence in court.

Before starting my job as an intermediary at Communicourt, I had only been to a crown court once to watch a trial. Even after going through a tough and thorough training programme, I remember being really nervous about attending my first day in court as an intermediary.

Even going through the security process felt quite overwhelming. I remember waiting anxiously in the courtroom for the judge to enter and I was worried about having to stand up and speak in front of everyone. I felt out of place compared to the barristers, they seemed so comfortable and familiar with their role and the court environment.

I was sat next to the vulnerable person I was supporting and explaining proceedings as they happened. They had to make a promise to the court to stop harassing their ex-partner and I remember how serious it was for them to understand this, and how important my role in this process was.

Communication specialists

Recently I went back to the same court I had visited on my first day of work, and it made me reflect and realise how far I have come over the past 10 months.

Our role as intermediaries is communication specialists, most of the team’s background is either in psychology or speech and language therapy. Therefore, before starting at Communicourt, I had a limited knowledge of the legal system and etiquette in court.

When I first started working as an intermediary, I felt nervous speaking in court in front of barristers and judges who had so much more experience than me. Now, I feel confident and comfortable speaking in the courtroom and explaining my role to court professionals and outsiders.

My confidence comes from much more than just gaining experience, it also comes from peer support. As an intermediary, you are working on your own, we are not office-based and are spread across the UK. I was worried this might feel isolating when I started, but we have really strong networks that have shown me how important peer support is.

Secure space

The cases we deal with can be upsetting and sometimes traumatic. Being able to discuss my experiences in court with my team is invaluable. They can offer advice, but importantly they create a secure space where I can process situations and discuss how I feel about them.

Communicourt currently has 59 intermediaries, and everyone is very supportive and helpful. When I joined, it was invaluable to speak to more experienced members of the team. By discussing difficult experiences in court with my colleagues, it helps me understand what they would do in the situation. Peer support helps me to think of more creative ways of working. Our role is very diverse and there are various tools and resources we can use to help someone with communication difficulties, to understand and participate in their legal proceedings.

I have always enjoyed meeting new people and this is a huge part of my role. Good people skills are so important for intermediaries, we need to be able to quickly develop a good rapport with the person we are working with to assist them in the best possible way in court. We use different techniques to build rapport, and learning what has worked well for the team helps me to develop my skills.

Every day is different

I love the fact that every single working day is different, and I need to use various knowledge and techniques. For example, we work with people who have a wide range of different diagnoses. As an intermediary, I need to understand these conditions so I can understand how they might affect someone’s communication skills. I am always developing my skills and knowledge to share within the team.

My role involves helping people with communication difficulties to engage with proceedings effectively and give their best evidence. I need to make sure they understand the questions they are being asked. It used to be quite daunting intervening in evidence when a question was too linguistically complex for someone I was supporting. However, the more experience I have gained helping people to give evidence and practising with colleagues, my confidence has grown.

One of the most terrifying experiences for a new intermediary is when they have to speak in front of the judge for the first time. Courtrooms are imposing places, and it is easy to feel intimidated by the formality. Intermediaries need to discuss the adaptations the person they are supporting might need with the judge and trial advocates. This can include asking for regular breaks, advising on the use of language or requesting evidence be given from a video suite.

As my experience in court continues, my knowledge of both family and criminal court increases making me feel more confident in my role. I enjoy learning new things and putting my new knowledge into practice. I assist people during one of the most difficult points in their lives and the importance of my role motivates me to do the best I possibly can for every person I work with. My confidence comes from ensuring the vulnerable person has a fair hearing and understands what is being said, therefore, I make recommendations and intervene when appropriate as it is needed for them to participate as best as possible during proceedings.