Reflections from the Access to Justice Conference 2023

This month  we hosted Communicourt’s first ever conference. Held in partnership with UK legal reform charity JUSTICE, the Access to Justice Conference 2023 took place in Leeds and online, with attendees including legal practitioners, law students, clinical psychologists, ISVAs (independent sexual violence advisors) and representatives from many other connected professions.

Now that the dust has settled, we’d like to reflect on some of the most important messages and discussions generated by the conference – and give a big thank you to all of our guests and speakers. The whole Communicourt team is extremely grateful to have been able to take part in such a multidisciplinary conversation about making justice more accessible – and we’re very pleased to have been able to share a range of perspectives on this multifaceted issue.

Although the majority of our speakers focussed on criminal proceedings, many of the ideas they shared are also applicable in the family courts and other proceedings. Though it wasn’t possible to explore every factor which may result in barriers to participation (on this occasion), we hope conversations around diagnoses like autism, learning disability and trauma, offered a window into some key areas for improvement – which stand to benefit all court users, including those with other accessibility requirements.

Full recordings and resources from the conference will be shared with all attendees by the end of November.

Chris Packham: Video-recorded foreword

We are incredibly grateful to broadcaster, naturalist and environmental campaigner, Chris Packham, who very generously shared his experiences of attending court as an autistic claimant. Chris’ clip was played at the outset of the event, setting the stage for broader discussions about inclusion in legal proceedings.

Chris eloquently reflected on the importance of predictability and foreknowledge for autistic people attending court. He explained that familiarisation with the hearing process and environment could be very important steps for court users, assisting them to manage difficult emotions (such as anxiety) more effectively, and allowing them to focus on the matter at hand.

Speaking about the court environment itself, Chris showed us the courtroom through his individual autistic lens, commenting that it was “a terrible cluttered jumble… The visual complexity of that environment was challenging for a while. Lots of hanging chandeliers, some with bulbs that were working, some with bulbs that weren’t…”, and remarking that it took him around two hours to feel that he was not distracted by the complex visual environment. He explained, “If I’m managing my autism, I’m not focusing on what I need to be focusing on”.

Chris also raised the enduring issue of audibility in legal proceedings – a matter which affects all court users, regardless of neurodivergence. He commented, “It was very difficult to hear. There were suspended microphones, but they didn’t seem to amplify the voices of the barristers at all. […] because we were sat behind the barristers who were facing the judge […] a number of people were struggling to hear […] whether you’re neurodiverse or not, that’s really frustrating. You’ve got to be able to hear that stuff”.

In summing up, Chris shared what he described as very “simple”, common sense suggestions for making the courts more accessible for autistic people – particularly sharing clear, detailed information about the hearing process and environment in advance. He also suggested the provision of videos showing the specific courtroom the individual would attend, to allow them to familiarise themselves with the setting in advance.

Although related resources do exist (like the video guide for witnesses attending court below, created by the Ministry of Justice), most videos of this type depict a generic courtroom in optimum condition. This does not often reflect the realities of most courtrooms and does not offer insight into the specific setting the autistic court user will attend.

In addition, many such videos are filmed for use by witnesses, rather than by other participants in proceedings. In this example, complex vocabulary like “specific” and “prosecutorial agency” is used, which would not be easily understood by all court users. Non-literal language (“testing the strength of the prosecution”) is also used, which may not be easily understood by some autistic court users.

Although Chris modestly described his suggestions as simple, questioning whether they would be of any help, his common-sense ideas are important – and, in fact, quite challenging to implement in the most effective way. These are certainly suggestions worth further exploration.

His Honour Judge Neil Clark

Opening the speaker sessions, HHJ Neil Clark provided a far-reaching overview of our legal system’s continuing journey towards improved accessibility. He acknowledged that change is about gradual evolution, rather than dramatic shifts, pointing to how far our legal system has come over the past 150 years. He commented: “It wasn’t until 1851 that the defendant in a civil case could give [any] evidence in their own defence. It wasn’t until 1898 and the passing of the Criminal Evidence Act, that the first defendant was able to give evidence under oath at all”.

His Honour also offered a glimpse into his particular interest in accessible justice, explaining that, when his mother developed a degenerative condition, he began to consider whether “bright people like her, with communication needs” would have real access to justice. He commented, “When I went to court and saw someone giving evidence, I’d think, I wonder how my mum would feel about doing that?”.

HHJ Clark also reflected upon the meaning of ‘best evidence’, noting that “achieving best evidence doesn’t just mean from the perspective of the prosecution” and asked, “In criminal court, why is it that we focus so much on cross-examination?”.

Kama Melly KC

The next speaker tackled the topic of person-centred approaches to special measures, with a particular focus on trauma-informed practice and working with young court users. Kama Melly KC provided a great deal of insight into the realities of legal proceedings for court users with vulnerabilities, and for those representing them. In her experience-driven, pragmatic presentation, she shared many of the overlooked barriers to effective participation which go unaddressed in legal proceedings – and many of the small adjustments which can be made to assist (but are all-too-rarely implemented).

In one, striking example (which will not be at all unfamiliar to intermediaries), Kama stated: “I watched [a] child give evidence for hours without breaks, until she agreed with every single question. She was asked frequently if she wanted a break by the judge. She didn’t want a break, she wanted to get out, so she said ‘no’ every time”. She added, “This wasn’t about ensuring the defendant had a fair trial. It was about putting the case and getting to the final objective”.

While the Youth Justice & Criminal Evidence Act (1999) set out a number of broad special measures (such as video-link evidence and intermediary assistance), Kama’s presentation highlights the myriad ‘small barriers’ which prevent court users from participating in legal proceedings fairly, which are very often overlooked and brushed aside due to factors like time constraints.

Attempting to address these ‘small’ (but very significant) barriers, therefore, falls to individual legal practitioners and, in some cases, intermediaries, who have first-hand insight into the communication needs of the court users they work with. However, under considerable professional pressure, not all advocates have the time or resources to ensure such barriers are addressed. Kama shared some examples from her own practice, which illustrate the deep thoughtfulness of approach which is often required to support a vulnerable court user.

She explained that she often chooses to ‘give words’ to her clients, which they can use to advocate for themselves during cross-examination. For example, telling them that, if they feel pressured to give a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in the witness box, they should say something like, “I’m sorry, I can’t explain that in one word”, which will prompt the judge to allow them to provide a more nuanced response.

Kama also explained her practice with regards to witness statements: “Everyone who reads their witness statement thinks they have taken it all in and they put it to one side. I annoy police officers. I make them read them out to the witness.”

Although intermediaries frequently work alongside excellent, intuitive and client-focussed barristers, the attuned practice outlined by Kama during her presentation is very uncommon. Very few legal practitioners, no matter how well-intentioned, have the bandwidth to ensure their practice is truly person-centred and responds to the specific needs of the client on this level.

Speaking later, during the panel discussion, Kama stated that trauma-informed questioning will “be the next big training we all engage with [as legal practitioners]”, also noting that updating training would be very beneficial for more senior legal practitioners, whose knowledge, awareness and skillset may not be in-step with current best practice around trauma.

Andi Brierley

Drawing on both his lived experience of care, drug addiction and the youth justice system, and his extensive experience of working in youth justice, Andi Brierley addressed how we, as professionals, engage with young people caught up in the criminal justice system. His presentation highlighted that, although treated as discrete labels, terms like “perpetrator”, “defendant”, “criminal”, “witness” and “victim” are often overlapping. He spoke about the impact of adverse childhood experiences and the common pathways into the criminal justice system, which can lead from disadvantage.

Andi encouraged the audience to be more intentional in their communication with young defendants and offenders, stating, “When we come into contact with those children [who have not had attuned care], Every interaction is an intervention”, adding, “Change the word engagement to connection. Switch from ‘they’re not engaging’ to ‘we’re not connecting’. Relationships are reciprocal, you’ve got responsibility for that, too”.

Dr Katie Maras

Researcher and senior lecturer, Dr Katie Maras’ presentation explored a wide range of topics relating to the experiences of autistic people subject to police questioning and cross-examination. Her talk included information about memory differences in autistic people, the most and least helpful questioning approaches, and relevant studies (like Bagnell et al, 2023, which have found that “truth-telling autistic mock-suspects reported fewer extricating details that would support their innocence than non-autistic mock-suspects”).

Katie then considered the barriers an autistic defendant may face at court, and shared her project regarding the effectiveness of special measures in cases involving autistic people. This project is currently examining important questions, such as: “What effect do Special Measures have on autistic witnesses’ and defendants’ experiences and ability to provide their ‘best evidence’ and are further measures needed?” and “What is the effect of special measures, diagnosis disclosure and juror instructions on how autistic individuals are perceived by jurors and judges?”.

Katie also invited legal professionals with experience of working with autistic people in court or tribunals to participate in her current project, which still requires participants. Participants can undertake an online questionnaire or take part in an approximately one-hour remote interview (those who take part will receive a £10 shopping voucher). Complete the questionnaire here: or contact for more information.

Edmore Masendeke

Concluding the speaker sessions, University of Leeds PhD student, Edmore, shared his research into “The court experiences of defendants with mental health conditions or learning disabilities in England”. Although drawing from a small sample, Edmore’s research uncovered some valuable insights into the court experiences of his participants.

The quotes included in his presentation vividly shared these experiences, and the barriers these individuals faced to participation. For example, one interviewee explained, I didn’t understand what was happening. It was like I was in a daze; like I didn’t really understand what … what the questions were asking, and like what court is like, you know, I guess, how to get in … I didn’t understand like what the judge is saying or any questions that they are asking me, to be fair. It was just mumbo jumbo. It is just like in a different language which, you know, I really didn’t understand.”

Another participant reported, “I was unsure whether I was acquitted, that is, a formal declaration that I was not guilty of the charges put in front of me. He (the solicitor) said ‘No, I wasn’t acquitted. The case was dropped.’ So … that … that only came … that was only explained to me weeks afterwards…”,

Concluding his presentation, Edmore stated, “There has been very little empirical research on the effectiveness of the support measures that courts are expected to rely on in the absence of intermediary assistance – and defendants with cognitive impairments’ views and opinions of that experience. The findings of this research suggest that those who received the support found it beneficial, while those who did not receive this support found it difficult to follow and understand what was happening during court proceedings”.

A big thank you

The entire Communicourt team would like to thank each attendee and speaker for their time, knowledge, and engagement with the important topic of access to justice. We sincerely hope that the event has generated discussions about how we can all work to further improve the accessibility of the justice system.

As His Honour Judge Clark points out, these improvements may be slow and incremental, which makes continuing these conversations – and keeping accessibility firmly in mind in our daily practice – extremely important. We are particularly inspired by Kama Melly KC’s identification of the myriad ‘smaller’ barriers and accommodations, which can make a big difference to an individual’s participation in legal proceedings (provided they are implemented in an attuned way). There is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, if those working alongside court users can more easily identify barriers and continue to share our practice, we can slowly make positive change on an individual level.

Bagnall, R., Russell, A., Brosnan, M. & Maras, K. (2023). Police suspect interviews with autistic adults: The impact of truth telling vs deception on testimony. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.

Further resources

Interested in learning more about communication differences and difficulties which can impact participation in legal proceedings? The Access Brief is a library of free bite-sized guides to everything from ADHD at court, to how an intermediary can work alongside an interpreter to support a court user’s understanding of proceedings.

For further information and queries, please contact

Florence in front of a whiteboard which features a list of orders in care proceedings - she is explaining how to simplify these concepts.

Florence shares intermediary role with Social Work students

Intermediary & Team Leader, Florence, recently used one of her Volunteering Days to introduce the intermediary role to social work apprentice students at Liverpool John Moores University.

Florence in front of a whiteboard which features a list of orders in care proceedings - she is explaining how to simplify these concepts.

Florence shared a range of strategies to support service users with communication needs during legal proceedings, and gained a lot of insight from a social workers’ perspective, too. Including a fresh perspective on explaining concepts surrounding Parental Responsibility and Threshold to respondents in care proceedings.

A classroom from behind. Florence is leaning over the students and explaining things. On the whiteboard at the front is an example of an 'I need a break' card often used by intermediaires at court.

In the afternoon, the class attended a talk given by a judge at court. Florence found it very surreal to be in front of a judge with no laptop, no person to explain things to, with the opportunity just to listen. She even asked a question without saying ‘Your Honour’ first!

Here are some of the things the judge shared with the social work students, which really got Florence thinking:

  • He described court as a ‘space’ not a ‘place’. Especially after COVID-19, court is a state of mind.
  • He noted that court is all about the 3 Fs: Fairness, Finality, and Formality.
  • He said that when a case comes to court they will be sifted, and different judges will get given them depending on complexity and seriousness. He then said more private family cases go to magistrates- which was interesting considering how surprised I’d been to be in a public family case in front of magistrates only weeks earlier!
  • He told the students to consider the positives and negatives and give credit where it’s due e.g., he’d take a social worker’s recommendations more seriously if they could also talk about the good points, like contact.
  • In the morning I’d told the students that the threshold was the list of ‘worries’. In the afternoon the judge said it was ‘allegations’. I’d never really thought before about how we might protect our service users from the word ‘allegations’.
  • The judge talked about the times in court when he gets to officially adopt someone into a new family. Sadly, we only ever get to see the hearings where parents find out these orders would be made, I don’t often think about those lovely days where the children get to start a new life.
Watercolour speech bubble with a 'scales of justice' icon inside

Access To Justice Matters: Why we’re hosting a multi-disciplinary conference

Square, yellow banner for the Access to Justice Conference with a red door logo. The subheading of the conference is: The future of inclusion and special measures in the courts. Details: HAlf day conference. 3rd November 2023. Leeds and online. With the Communicourt and JUSTICE logos.

We have just released early bird tickets for Communicourt’s very first external conference: Access to Justice: The future of inclusion & special measures in the courts, held in partnership with UK law reform and human rights charity, JUSTICE. The half-day conference will take place on Friday 3 November in Leeds and a livestream is available for those who can’t make it in person.

We wanted to talk to you about why we think this event is necessary, and what we hope to achieve. Striving for ever-better access to justice for people with communication differences and difficulties is what drives Communicourt as an organisation. However, intermediaries are only one piece of the puzzle of achieving equal participation for all.

We recognise the limitations of our role within a much wider, complex system. We also recognise the importance of inter-disciplinary working to facilitate more effective participation, for court users with very diverse needs. In addition, there are many vulnerabilities which require accommodations and adjustments within the court process but may fall outside the purview of intermediary assistance.


JUSTICE logo (statue holding weighing balances) with text JUSTICE

We know legal professionals find themselves under increasing pressure in the court system and are always striving to do all they can for their clients. We invited JUSTICE to partner on this conference because we admire their considerable expertise and tireless work fighting for UK legal reform. They are absolutely the right partner for this event, and we are immensely proud and excited to be working with them.

Improving access without intermediaries

There are many reasons why an intermediary may not be allocated to assist a court user with a communication difference, communication difficulty or vulnerability. This might be due to resources, or time constraints. In these cases, counsel must juggle the considerable demands of representing their client, with monitoring and supporting their participation as far as possible.

Sharing the latest best practice with legal professionals is therefore (in our view) essential to improving access to justice in cases where intermediaries are not appointed. We believe that conferences like this present an excellent opportunity for sharing knowledge, which could help more court users who do not have access to an intermediary to participate more effectively in legal proceedings.

We want to spark conversation around inclusion, adaptations, adjustments and special measures, to keep these ‘tools’ firmly at the top of the agenda, whenever the court works with individuals who have communication needs or other vulnerabilities.

Sharing thinking

Nurturing inter-disciplinary understanding, collaboration and knowledge sharing is an essential part of making justice more accessible. From policy makers and judges, to academics, solicitors and intermediaries – the more communication between and awareness of intersecting roles, scopes, tools and best practice, the more effectively we can all accommodate communication needs and other vulnerabilities within the justice system.

Two thought bubbles in different watercolour colour schemes, overlapping with a lightbulb in the centre.

Among professionals working in the courtroom, there are many competing demands and priorities. For example, a judge is likely to prioritise overall case and time management more highly than an intermediary, who will prioritise adaptations which will assist their service user to participate as effectively as possible (such as breaks for further explanation and to support attention).

By the same token, a barrister may take a ‘bigger picture’ approach when considering the best approach to their client’s evidence, keeping the outcome of the case firmly in mind. They may, for example, feel strongly that live-link will reduce the impact of their client’s evidence upon a jury. As an impartial professional, an intermediary will focus on measures which will best enable their service user to understand questions put to them and to express themselves as effectively as possible. This may mean recommending remote participation (to better manage the impact of issues like anxiety, PTSD flashbacks, sensory sensitivities and other factors upon their communication).

Nurturing collaboration

The above examples of differing priorities highlight the importance of multi-disciplinary working, when tackling access to justice. Navigating these issues in order to collaboratively ensure effective participation depends on court professionals understanding the boundaries and demands of each other’s roles. Fostering greater communication across professions is a crucial step towards getting those delicate balances right.

Although not a training event, the Access to Justice conference seeks to bring together diverse professionals, allowing opportunities for interdisciplinary connection and learning.

Service user voices

We strive to facilitate equal access to justice for service users in courtrooms across England and Wales. It is their voices and experiences which continue to drive our work. Below you can read some of our service user courtroom experiences first-hand, which highlight why we do what we do, why access to justice matters, and why we hope to bring together a wide range of speakers and guests from across the justice system at the Access to Justice Conference, so we can each work more effectively, together, to achieve equal participation for all:

Watercolour speech bubble with a 'scales of justice' icon inside

“I don’t understand most of what they’re saying. I speak to [my solicitor]. When she asked me something, I said, ‘Don’t know, I’m going to put my trust in you, and you make the decision’. And with ADHD it’s really hard to make decisions. If you ask me, ‘Do you want tea or coffee?’, I’m blown”.

“Being closed in [the dock], I couldn’t hear what was being said and, if I do, what’s being said, it takes me a while to [hand gesture] absorb and understand what people are saying, maybe sometimes I won’t and the difficulty with that, sometimes I just say ‘yes’. And when you’ve got all those people watching you…”

“Yeah, that’s the problem as well because I have this thing [PTSD] sometimes when they’re talking, but, you know, my understanding and my mind goes somewhere else”.

Prevalence of communication difficulties & differences in the justice system

Although not an exhaustive list of diagnoses, differences and difficulties which may impact an individual’s ability to communication and participate effectively in legal proceedings, these statistics offer a glimpse into the prevalence of very varied communication needs at court (see references below).

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

  • 26% of adult prisoners in Britain met the criteria for some form of ADHD (Young et al, 2015)
  • 96% of offenders with ADHD have co-occurring problems involving issues such as mood, anxiety, and conduct (Young and Cocallis, 2021)
  • 30% of young offenders have some form of ADHD, compared to 3-4% percent in the general population (Young et al, 2015 and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2018)


  • 5-7% of people referred to liaison and diversion services by the courts are autistic (Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, 2021)
  • 19% of people in UK prisons have autistic indicators (Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, 2021)

Brain injury

  • 47% of adult men and 70% of male youths in UK prisons reported sustaining a head injury (Pitman et al, 2013)

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

  • Up to 60% of young people who commit crimes have DLD (Winstanley et al, 2020)
  • Young people with DLD are twice as likely to reoffend than those who do not have the condition (Winstanley et al, 2020)

Learning Disability

  • 5-10% of people who offend have a learning disability (Prison Reform Trust, 2017)
  • 25% of young people who offend have a very low IQ, below 70 (Prison Reform Trust, 2017)

Mental health difficulties

  • 25% of women and 15% of men in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis (Prison Reform Trust, 2017)
  • 21% of women in prison have PTSD (Facer-Irwin et al., 2014)
  • During family law proceedings, the mental health of women with domestic abuse-related PTSD often deteriorates (Douglas, 2017)
  • 49% of people in prison reported being at risk of anxiety or depression (Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, 2017)
  • There is a higher prevalence of bipolar disorder in prison populations compared to the general population (Fovet et al, 2015)

Attend the Access to Justice Conference

We hope this article offers some insight into our motivations and goals for our very first external conference. To learn more about the conference and to book early bird tickets (available for a limited time only), please visit the Communicourt website. For further information, please contact

Red door logo with text: Book tickets (button)


Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (2021) Neurodiversity in the criminal justice system: A review of evidence, Accessed [online]: September 2022

Douglas H. (2017). Domestic and Family Violence, Mental Health and Well-Being, and Legal Engagement. Psychiatry, psychology, and law : an interdisciplinary journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 25(3), 341–356.

Facer-Irwin E, Blackwood NJ, Bird A, Dickson H, McGlade D, Alves-Costa F, et al. (2019) PTSD in prison settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of comorbid mental disorders and problematic behaviours.

Fovet, T., Geoffroy, P.A., Vaiva, Adins, C., Thomas, P., Amad, A. (2015) Individuals With Bipolar Disorder and Their Relationship With the Criminal Justice System: A Critical Review, Psychiatric Services: Volume 66, Issue 4.

Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, NHS England and Public Health England, (2017) Mental health in prisons HC 42 SESSION 2017–2019. London: National Audit Office.

Johnson, R.D. et al. (2021). Health vulnerabilities of parents in care proceedings in Wales. London: Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Guidance: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: diagnosis and management. 2018.

Pitman, I. , Haddlesey, C. and Fortescue, D. (2013), “The prevalence of traumatic brain injury among adult male offenders in the UK”, Disabilities Trust Website.

Prison Reform Trust (2017) Mental health, autism and learning disabilities in the criminal courts, Prison Reform Trust & Rethink Mental Illness

Winstanley, M., Webb, R. T., Conti-Ramsden, G. (2020) Developmental language disorders and risk of recidivism among young offenders. The Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry 62: 396-403.

Young S, Cocallis K. ADHD and offending. J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2021 Jul;128(7):1009-1019.

Young S, Moss D, Sedgwick O, Fridman M, Hodgkins P. A meta-analysis of the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in incarcerated populations. Psychol Med. 2015 Jan;45(2):247-58.

Speaker at Inclusioneers Conference on stage in red lighting

Communicourt at Inclusioneers Conference 2023

This week, Melissa (Assistant Lead Practitioner) and Rachel (Team Leader) attended the Inclusive Employers Inclusioneers Conference 2023, held at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge.

The event was held to share best practice and bright ideas on topics including recruitment and positive action, hybrid working, racial equity, inclusion & diversity strategy, and staff networks. A keynote speech was delivered by LGBTQ+ voice, Nathaniel J Hall, an HIV activist, producer, writer and star of unmissable drama, It’s A Sin.  

Rachel was especially inspired by calls to “Make inclusion an everyday reality” within organisations. She explained, “We had a really enjoyable day listening to the fantastic speakers at the Inclusive Employers Inclusioneers Conference 2023 – from learning top tips for inclusive recruitment and flexible working to hearing about personal experiences in relation to racial equity and being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Everyone’s ideas and stories were so inspirational, insightful, and we have definitely come away with more tools in our inclusion kitbag that we are looking forward to sharing with our colleagues”. 

Inclusion isn’t just important for our service users (who often require adaptations and adjustments to ensure they have equal access to justice). It’s also important for us as an organisation. We work with an incredibly diverse range of court users, and we strongly believe that this diversity should be reflected within Communicourt itself, to allow us to provide an ever-better informed and attuned service to people with communication needs.

Communicourt is always working to improve inclusion and diversity within the organisation, implementing recruitment policies to diversify our workforce, nurturing staff groups (including a Neurodiversity Network and team of Diversity Ambassadors), and amplifying diverse voices within the company, via internal platforms.

The Inclusioneers event has offered lots of food for thought and fuel for future developments, and we look forward to putting this learning into practice.

The words "My Intermediary Week" on a watercolour background

My Intermediary Week: Anna

My name is Anna and I’ve been an intermediary at Communicourt for two and a half years now (wow time flies!). I studied Psychology at university and, once I had finished my course I became an analyst – which I found very boring as I had to look at excel spreadsheets for hours on end! But it was in this job that I first heard about the role of an intermediary from one of my colleagues. I started to research the role and it really appealed to me. I’ve always been interested in court. My Granddad became a magistrate when he retired, and growing up, I always loved hearing his stories from the courtroom. However, I was never drawn to a career in law. So, when I heard about the role of an intermediary, I was very excited at the prospect.

My job as an intermediary is to assist individuals with communication difficulties going through court proceedings. This is usually in either the criminal or family court. In this blog post, I will take you through a recent week in my intermediary life! However, it’s important to remember that no two weeks are the same for an intermediary. Each new week brings new cases, new people and fresh chances to have a positive impact on an individual’s access to justice.


My week started with a remote family court case. Working from my home, I emailed the solicitor to try and arrange pre-hearing discussions so I could talk with the service user to introduce myself, build rapport and explore how we could communicate during the hearing.

Unfortunately, I did not get a response. Despite making lots of different phone calls, by 9:30 (when the court hearing was due to start) I still had not had any contact from the solicitor, nor received a link for the court hearing itself.

After continuously trying to make contact, I was finally sent the link to the hearing – well after court had already started! I joined mid-way through the hearing and made a note of what was said. After the hearing, I tried to arrange a post-hearing conference to explore the service user’s understanding of the hearing and to provide support with any areas of difficulty. Unfortunately, this was also not possible. I then updated the case notes so the next intermediary who works with this service user can check their understanding of the case.

This was a frustrating start to the week, as usually remote hearings are much more straightforward than this. In the majority of cases, contact numbers are available and it is straightforward to set up a pre- and post- hearing discussion. It is also very rare that an intermediary is only provided access to the hearing part-way through. Typically, at the outset of remote hearings, ground rules are discussed with the intermediary, so everyone is appraised of any needs the service user may have and knows how remote intermediary assistance will be managed.

Equally, by the time most remote hearings start, I’ve usually had a chance to speak with the service user. At this stage, I typically explore the best options for providing remote assistance (either through an open phone line during the hearing, by using a CVP intermediary room or by text messaging during the hearing – all dependant on the technology available to the service user, and their level of literacy). In most cases, by the time hearings commence, myself and the service user will have exchanged numbers and set up a method of communication, to ensure they have access to simplification, recaps and other assistance. Today, things didn’t go so smoothly, but it can only get better from here!


Tuesday was supposed to be a day to catch up on admin work but, at approximately 10:30am, I received a call from the Communicourt bookings team asking me to cover a last-minute family court hearing. To make matters more interesting, the person I would be assisting needed some further assessment to gain a full understanding of their communication abilities.

By 11am I was on a Zoom call with the service user, conducting some further assessment tasks which looked at some areas of communication that had not been previously assessed. After this, I gave their barrister a quick call to update him on the new findings, before entering the remote family court case.

The court hearing was about ensuring the individual would be able to participate in the upcoming in-person hearing effectively. I addressed the judge and gave some recommendations to the court about what would help this person participate to the best of their ability. The judge agreed to all of my recommendations which included:

  • Advocates for all parties to send their proposed questions to the intermediary in advance of the service user’s evidence (to allow the intermediary to check the questions are worded and structured in a way that will be best understood by the service user – allowing them to give their best evidence).

  • Permission for the service user to remain in their usual seat in the body of the court during their evidence (due to high levels of anxiety).

  • Only one advocate to ask questions on behalf of all parties (to help minimise the impact of anxiety upon their ability to process questions and formulate responses).

  • Frequent breaks (with recommended timings).

  • Permission for the service user to make use of an attention aid (tangle toy) at court.


On Wednesday I had a break from the family court and instead attended a conference with a young person facing criminal proceedings. They were someone I have assisted before, so I already knew a bit about their communication profile, but I reminded myself of their communication needs by reviewing their intermediary report and cognitive report in advance. I also reminded myself of the case by reading the intermediary case notes.

It was then time to attend the conference, after a short walk over to the solicitor’s office, I helped the service user to understand the process of a trial by creating a simple court diagram showing who will be sat where and by explaining the job of each person in the room. I also used a visual aid to help the service user decide whether he will be plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ by using a flowchart to explain each option and the potential outcomes of both. Throughout our meeting, I intervened to check the service user’s understanding and simplified any low frequency language his barrister used, this helped the service user give clear instructions and follow what was being said.

Ficticious example only, does not include key information (e.g., impact on sentence)


On Thursday I attended another conference, this time with someone who had a very important family court hearing coming up. Again, this was a service user I had previously worked with and so I already had an understanding of their communication abilities, but it is still important to frequently remind myself of the individual’s case and communication profile. I re-read the intermediary report and case notes in advance of the meeting.

During the meeting, I assisted the solicitor to ask questions in a way that made sense to the individual and allowed him to give clear responses.

For example, the solicitor asked, “So you don’t agree with what the local authority want?”. This is a statement-style question which invites agreement (making it harder for more suggestible people to contradict). It also included a negative (“don’t”), which can prompt unclear answers.

I therefore asked the service user, “What do social services want?” and, “What do you want?”. This enabled me to check the service user understood what other parties in the case were asking for, and also enabled the service user to provide clear instructions.

We then spoke about what sort of recommendations could be made in court to aid the service user’s participation in the upcoming hearing. For example, asking the court to sit for shorter days, due to the service user’s difficulties with concentration, and asking for regular breaks, so the intermediary can check understanding and allow time for the service user to ask any questions.


Friday brings yet another new court case to my calendar. I assisted a young person who I have worked with numerous times before. Today was an in-person family court hearing, which involved taking an early morning train to court. Whilst on the train, I read through the report and case notes to remind myself of exactly what sort of support was required.

When I arrived in court, I met the service user and barrister, and we found a quiet space to have pre-hearing discussions. During this conversation, I assisted the service user’s understanding by explaining low frequency vocabulary (less commonly used words) and asking questions to check they had understood what was being said.

For example, when the barrister said, “The local authority’s position is ambiguous right now” I explained that meant, “The social workers are not being clear about what they want”.

At the end of the conference, in order to check the service user’s understanding, I asked specific questions such as, “What does *NAME* want to happen?” and, “Why are you having an assessment?”. These questions enabled me to check that the service user had gained a clear understanding of what had been discussed.

After a break, it was then time to enter the courtroom. I sat with the service user and whispered real time explanations to them throughout the proceedings. For example, when one of the barrister’s said *NAME’s* statement has been “filed and served”, I whispered to the service user, “The court have got a copy of *NAME’s* statement”. I also drew a simple line drawing of the courtroom to show who was sitting where and what their job was. This assisted the service user to understand who was speaking on behalf of who.

Simple line drawing of a family courtroom, labelled with roles of different parties and professionals.
Ficticious example (does not include names)

At one juncture, they made an important comment to me, so I passed a note forward to the barrister. The barrister then addressed the judge on this point. After the hearing, we had a quick conversation with counsel to go over what was said in court. I checked the service user had understood everything by asking focussed questions and asking them to explain what had happened in court in their own words.

It was then time to go home. On my train home I completed some admin tasks and wrote up the case notes from the day.

Working as a Communicourt intermediary requires resilience and adaptability. It is an extremely rewarding role, where every day is interesting and new. The job is unpredictable and unforeseen circumstances arise all the time, but every day brings new stories, unexpected twists, new challenges and the chance to make a positive difference to people facing some of the most difficult moments of their lives.  

The Access Brief logo

If you would like to learn more about the intermediary role at different stages of family and criminal proceedings, visit The Access Brief. A growing library of free resources developed for legal professionals working with clients who have communication needs, including guides to working with clients who have a range of common conditions which impact communication.

A line drawing of the Glastonbury Pyramid stage surrounded by confetti with bright letters spelling out Tourette's on the Pyramid Stage

Tourette’s on the Pyramid Stage

As Frances Ryan for the Guardian writes, the crowd’s support for Lewis Capaldi during a performance affected by tics was “the sort of display of communal spirit that didn’t just feel like Glastonbury at its best, but humankind generally”.

Her article celebrates the response of festival-goers, who cheered on the singer and sang when he could not, as his vocal performance was increasingly impacted by Tourette’s (which includes involuntary movements and tics affecting his breathing).

However, Ryan’s article also highlights the rarity of visible disability – particularly on stages as prestigious and global as Glastonbury. On this unusual occasion, a person experiencing communication barriers was publicly celebrated and supported – not out of pity, but through acceptance. The crowd acknowledged Capaldi’s difficulties and worked collaboratively and responsively with him, to triumphantly finish the set. This wasn’t about bleeding hearts or saviour complexes. This was about wanting Capaldi there, wanting to be part of a moment with him, and working towards a successful communication exchange in an act of mass collaboration.

Here are the voices of some people with Tourette’s in response to the performance:

The disparity between this one, magic moment and society’s typical responses to disability (including wrong-footed, well-meaning ones) is stark. In Capaldi’s statement following the festival, he said he was “annoyed” with himself, perhaps a reflection of the shame some people with Tourette’s and many others are made to feel, when they are unable to mask their differences – an often exhausting task, upon which their equal treatment can feel dependent.

Making communication work

Capaldi’s performance highlighted that communication is a two-way (or in this case a 100,001 way) exchange, which both sides of the ‘conversation’ have a duty to make work. In many ways, the Glastonbury set illustrates best practice when working with a court user (or communicating with anyone, in any context) who has a communication difference or difficulty.

Communication is an exchange, which all participants have a duty to facilitate as effectively as possible. Part of successful exchanges involves understanding each participants’ communication strengths and needs and implementing adaptations to overcome any barriers. This doesn’t mean frustratedly ending an exchange because it isn’t working, or assuming that what somebody is trying to communicate isn’t of value.

Successful communication can look different for everyone, but collaborative, person-centred approaches are often the key. This is how the crowd approached their exchange with Capaldi. Listening to what he had to say about the difficulties he was experiencing, responding to his cues and providing the support required to facilitate a successful interaction.

Tourette’s & communication in legal proceedings

In a recent Communicourt blog for Tourette’s Action Week, we explored the condition (which affects an estimated 1% of people in the UK) and shared tips and strategies for legal professionals working with a client who has Tourette’s.

Many of these strategies focused on raising communication partners’ awareness and understanding (for example, addressing a jury to explain a defendant’s Tourette’s presentation and that this must not influence their verdict) and working collaboratively with the court user to implement effective communication strategies (for example, by asking what helps them).

Concepts like “understanding” and “awareness” may sound fluffy, but they can and should have concrete outcomes. For example, understanding that some people prefer to suppress tics (which can result in fatigue and impair attention) means that courts can take measures like implementing more frequent breaks, providing written summaries (in case evidence is missed through loss of attention) or working to ensure the individual feels more comfortable to tic freely during proceedings.

Meanwhile, being aware that anxiety and stress can exacerbate Tourette’s symptoms can prompt the court to explore special measures to help manage these feelings, like permitting remote attendance or the use of a screen during the court user’s evidence, which can assist the individual to give their best, clearest and most reliable evidence.

However, when we start to consider a list of possible ‘strategies’, it’s easy to lose sight of the person at the centre of these measures. Adaptations must be made on a person-by-person basis, and informed by the individual they are intended to assist.

A group of people reading a book called "Tourette's 101". Away from them, a women is raising her hand to get their attention and saying, "But I need..."

For example, while some people may prefer for their tics to be ignored in conversation, others will feel more comfortable with an alternative approach. While some people will feel less anxious engaging in proceedings remotely, for others, video calls can be particularly anxiety inducing. Instead of following a ‘tick-list’ when communicating with a person who has a communication difference or difficulty, actively seeking and integrating individual communication preferences is essential.

These principles don’t just apply when communicating with a person who has Tourette’s Syndrome, or when cheering on your favourite musician on the Pyramid Stage. They should be at the heart of every interaction. When we take a flexible, responsive, informed and person-centred approach to communication, we help ensure everyone can be part of the conversation.

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Learn more about court communication from experienced court intermediaries on The Access Brief. A growing library of free resources developed for legal professionals working with clients who have communication needs.

Congratulations to the Northern Law Awards Winners!

We were very proud to sponsor, judge and attend the Northern Law Awards last night, celebrating the expertise and dedication of legal teams in the North of England. The Communicourt team had a wonderful evening, meeting and applauding outstanding legal practitioners at the awards dinner in Newcastle.

Alongside other judges, we were tasked with the difficult job of selecting the winner of the “Family Law Team of the Year” Award. We met with delegates from the four finalists, Cygnet Family LawMajor Family Law, Sintons LLP and Tilly Bailey & Irvine LLP and were asked to select the team who best demonstrated legal expertise, appreciation by clients, client service excellence, project management skills and team working. It was an extremely difficult task, as all four finalists clearly embodied all of these qualities and achievements.

However, after careful consideration and deliberation, Communicourt’s managing director, William Scrimshire, was delighted to present Cygnet Family Law with the Family Law Team of the Year Award, at the awards ceremony held at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead. We found the Cygnet team to be “an outstanding team providing outstanding expertise”, and were very pleased to be able to recognise their exceptional work. Congratulations to the whole team!

Our intermediaries work alongside outstanding family lawyers across the North of England (and beyond) every day, so it was a real pleasure to take part in recognising the skill, empathy and commitment of legal professionals who we know consistently go above and beyond for their clients, particularly those with communication difficulties and other vulnerabilities.

Were you paying attention?

Did you notice the fidget aids hidden in our Communicourt gift bags on your party’s table? These resources can assist many different people to regulate their emotions and attention more effectively. Anecdotally, intermediaries see this in the courtroom every day, and there is a growing body of research which points to their effectiveness:

Intermediaries often offer court users attention aids during hearings and meetings. They can be particularly helpful for people with ADHD, anxiety and PTSD, but many others also find them useful, including some autistic court users and neurotypical people. If you happen to be caught without a specific fidget aid, there are lots of alternatives that can be implemented which have a similar effect, such as encouraging a client to doodle, or providing a simple piece of Blu Tack or a hairband.

Thank you & congratulations

Our sincere thanks to the Northern Law Awards, it’s been a pleasure to sponsor the event and to celebrate many of the dedicated legal professionals our intermediaries work alongside. Finally, a huge congratulations to all of the finalists and winners, including newly crowned Family Law Team of the Year, Cygnet Health!

SME National Business Awards logo on a dark yellow background with the communicourt logo next to the word "Finalists"

We’re finalists in the SME National Business Awards 

SME National Business Awards logo on a dark yellow background with the communicourt logo next to the word "Finalists"

We’re delighted to announce that Communicourt has been chosen as a finalist in three categories at the SME National Business Awards 2023. From hundreds of applicants, we’ve been selected as finalists in the Positive Impact, Service Excellence and Employer of the Year categories.  

“This is the first time we have ever been in the race for this kind of award. It was a pleasure to go through all the positive things Communicourt has done and achieved in the last 12 months with the rest of the team and we look forward with anticipation to the awards evening.“ 

William Scrimshire (Managing Director, Communicourt)

Each application to the SME National Business Awards is rigorously appraised and scored by four judges, selected from a panel of 30 leading businesspeople from a wide range of fields. 

Positive Impact  

This category is all about innovations and adaptations which allow businesses to thrive, to the wider benefit of society. The judges are looking for businesses which make real, positive change and take active steps to continue boosting their impact.  
When applying for this category, we were especially pleased to have an opportunity to show off The Access Brief – a library of free resources we’ve developed to assist any and all legal professionals working with a client who has a communication difficulty – not only in cases where an intermediary is allocated.  

Service Excellence 

This category focusses on the quality of the service businesses deliver to clients and customers, from going the extra mile, to consistently ensuring an outstanding service and striving to continually improve on that offer. Communicourt was lucky enough to have a wealth of wonderful testimonials from service users, judges, barristers and solicitors to support the application to this category.  

“I want to just take this opportunity to thank your intermediary for his time and patience with me last week and Monday of this week. I want to let you know how good he is at his job, I just could not have gone through that without him by my side.”

– Communicourt Service User

Employer of the Year 

This award will be won by a business which invests in its team’s growth and wellbeing. Applicants were asked to tell the judges, “how you as an employer look after your employees so they take care of your business”. From Team Days and remote yoga classes, volunteering days, Diversity Ambassadors, a Neurodiversity Network and our active internal hubs, we had lots of great things to share, which help make Communicourt a community. 

The winners of the 2023 SME National Business Awards will be announced on 1st December 2023. Very best of luck to all of our fellow finalists! 

Swirly white patterns on a light blue background. The trext reads "We're celebrating Learning Disability Week" and includes the Communicourt and Mencap logos.

Myth Busting for Learning Disability Week

by Anna Carter (intermediary)

This year, Learning Disability Week is all about busting myths about living with a learning disability. Learning disabilities affect individuals in all sorts of ways and every person with a learning disability has their own unique strengths and challenges. However, learning disabilities are often surrounded by misconceptions that can lead to stereotypes and hinder support.

It is estimated that 4-6% of the entire population has a learning disability. The exact cause of learning disability is much debated. Sometimes it is because a person’s brain development is affected [NHS] either pre-birth, during birth or in their early childhood. There are also some health conditions that may pre-dispose someone to a learning disability, for example cerebral palsy and foetal alcohol syndrome.

Learning disabilities can vary in severity and they are typically categorised as severe, moderate, or mild, based on the impact they have on an individual’s daily life. The measurement and classification of learning disabilities involve a comprehensive evaluation by professionals such as a psychologist.

This Learning Disability Week, Mencap are campaigning to smash preconceptions and stereotypes about who people with learning disabilities are and what they can do. For many people, it’s all about access. With the right support and adaptations, people with learning disabilities can overcome societal barriers and achieve their goals, whatever they might be. Read on to discover the stories of individuals who demonstrate that a learning disability does not limit one’s potential.

But first, let’s tackle some other misconceptions about learning disabilities…

Myth 1 – Learning disabilities and learning difficulties are the same thing.

“Learning disability” and “Learning difficulty” are terms which are often used interchangeably, but there is a big difference between these two, distinct diagnoses.

Learning disability refers to overall reduced intellectual ability, which impacts learning across all areas of life, from experiences in education to daily living skills. For example, an individual with a learning disability may have struggled in school (without the correct support) and may find tasks like budgeting, planning and time management challenging. It’s important to note, whilst learning disabilities can make some aspects of everyday life more challenging, individuals with learning disabilities also possess unique strengths and talents, whether that is deep empathy, outstanding creativity and anything in between.

Learning difficulty, meanwhile, is an umbrella term which describes a range of specific difficulties that can impact learning, such as dyslexia, ADHD or dyscalculia. Unlike a learning disability, learning difficulties do not affect the overall intellectual ability of an individual. For example, a person with dyslexia may have above average intellectual abilities, but may find specific literacy skills challenging.

Myth 2 – Learning disabilities can be outgrown.

Learning disabilities are lifelong conditions which are usually present from birth. While individuals with learning disabilities may develop strategies to manage any challenges they face, the learning difficulties themselves will persist for the duration of life. This doesn’t mean that individuals with learning disabilities can’t achieve success. Instead, they may need to find ways to navigate skills they struggle with.

To give an analogy, a person who is diabetic can still be an amazing athlete, but they need to figure out how to balance their medical condition with their training. In the same way, people who have a learning disability can achieve their goals but may require adaptations (like access to easy read documents) and different strategies (like identifying when and how best to seek support) to do so. Early identification and intervention is therefore essential to support individuals with learning disabilities to thrive.

Myth 3 – Having a learning disability means you can’t be successful.

Many individuals with a learning disability have achieved great success in various fields. It’s important to remember that having a learning disability may affect how an individual processes and understands information. But it does not mean they are incapable of learning or achieving their goals. People with learning disabilities have proved countless times that they can achieve remarkable success, challenging the misconception that they cannot be successful. Below are some examples of individuals with learning disabilities who have achieved significant accomplishments:

Alastair has Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects the nervous system and causes severe physical and learning disabilities. Alastair is a creative artist, skateboarder and explorer. He has spread the message that being non-verbal doesn’t mean a person lacks understanding – the key is communicating in the right way.

Alastair Smith

John Cronin

John Cronin is the co-founder to a successful business, John’s Crazy Socks! He has Down Syndrome, and, along with his father, he turned his passion for colourful and creative socks into a successful business. Through his business, he advocates for the abilities and contributions of individuals with disabilities.  John has shown that people with learning disabilities can excel in the workplace. His business challenges stereotypes and encourages others to pursue their goals.  

Jessica Jane Applegate

Jessica Applegate is another remarkable individual with learning disabilities. She is a paralympic swimming champion who had competed at a global level. This requires immense physical and mental endurance, highlighting her determination, discipline and ability to overcome obstacles.

Jessica has shattered stereotypes and evidenced that individuals with learning disabilities can achieve whatever they set their mind to. She is an inspiration and role model showing the potential for people living with learning disabilities.

Ellie Goldstein

Ellie Goldstein is a British model with Down Syndrome. In recent years, Ellie has been busy breaking down barriers in the fashion industry. She has recently become the first model with Down Syndrome to feature on the cover of the British Vogue magazine. Her talent has caught the attention of other brands and designers. Ellie’s success has inspired and empowered many people with disabilities to pursue their dreams in the fashion industry. Her success highlights the beauty of diversity.

These individuals, among many others, have demonstrated that having a learning disability does not define a person’s potential for success. These remarkable individuals and their accomplishments serve as a testament to the importance of inclusive attitudes, equal opportunities, and supportive environments that enable individuals with learning disabilities to reach their full potential.

Myth 4 – Individuals with learning disability can’t understand legal proceedings.

Individuals with learning disabilities can be supported to understand legal proceedings to ensure they can effectively participate in the legal system. At Communicourt, we support people with a range of communication difficulties to help them understand their trial or hearing. Here are some key strategies which may assist:

  • Highlight the topic and speak about one subject at a time. It may help to use a visual list of topics in conference (or an order of proceedings), crossing each off once complete.

  • Use simple language. Choose everyday words and use short, simple sentences.

  • Break complex information down and provide visual aids to enhance understanding.

  • Create a supportive environment. For example, allow an individual with learning disabilities extra time to comprehend proceedings, allow the presence of a trusted friend or family member to provide emotional support, or ensure written material is accessible in easy-read formats. You can download a free guide to creating easy read documents from the Communicourt Access Brief (see more below).

  • Implement reasonable adjustments. This might include advocates providing questions in advance of evidence to an intermediary to ensure the questions are framed in the best possible way.

  • Have a Ground Rules Hearing. At this hearing, everyone involved in the case can be alerted to the specific requirements of the individual, as well as strategies which can improve their understanding and participation. Search The Access Brief for a free guide to Ground Rules Hearings.

By implementing these strategies, many individuals with a learning disability can be better supported to understand and engage with legal proceeding.

Individuals with learning disabilities can excel in their chosen area, break barriers, and contribute meaningfully. They inspire others by challenging stereotypes, promoting inclusion, and showing the abilities of those with learning disabilities. This Learning Disability Week let’s dismantle misconceptions and myths by reminding ourselves of the strengths, talents, and resilience of individuals with learning disabilities. The journey of myth busting does not end here – let’s carry the spirit of learning disability week forward!

Download our free, bite-sized guide to working with someone who has a Learning Disability in legal proceedings from The Access Brief.

CVP Intermediary Rooms: The inside view

Imagine yourself in a police interview. The room is divided by a one-way mirror. One side is a space where the interview is conducted. On the other side, officers make observations and have discussions through a soundproof one-way mirror. The officers can see and hear both sides, but the individuals in the interview can only see and hear what is in their room. The room with the officers making observations is the closest representation of the intermediary room on CVP.

What is a CVP intermediary room?

The intermediary room, also known as the interpreter room, was an HMCTS development of the Cloud Video Platform (CVP) to improve multilingual services during remote hearings, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CVP guidance, there are two ways to ‘interpret’ spoken language in a court hearing; consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation.

The purpose of CVP is to mimic what occurs in a face-to-face hearing in a remote setting. The benefit of using the intermediary room, is that the court will always be able to see the court user and the intermediary or interpreter and vice versa. However, the court will not be able to hear the intermediary or interpreter giving real-time explanations or simplifications, meaning the hearing can continue without having to pause.

Prior to the pandemic, all hearings were fully attended in person and remote court hearings were a concept unknown to a lot of people. It was also unheard of for interpreters to assist remotely. There were some occasions where intermediaries could assist remotely, i.e., assisting with evidence via video-link from a witness suite, however, these occasions were extremely rare. Back then, intermediaries may have recommended that court users attend remotely, for example, to assist a court user with severe anxiety. However, judges were often reluctant to agree to this and the intermediary would have to thoroughly explain the need for this measure and the potential benefits to the court user’s participation.

The technology used to facilitate assisting remotely before the pandemic was not as advanced and accessible as it is now. Previously, a designated TV, laptop or computer in the witness suite was a common option. However, today, court attendees can usually join using any device, from anywhere in the world, provided they have the correct CVP link and PIN to access the meeting.

How are intermediary rooms set up?

The organiser, normally the court clerk, will set the link up. They will host two linked CVP ‘rooms’.

What happens if there is no intermediary room?

The intermediary room can only be facilitated on CVP. If the hearing is on Microsoft Teams, there is not an option for an intermediary room.

The intermediary can request the organiser (the clerk) to create an intermediary room when they join a hearing and find out that an intermediary room has not been created. The organiser will then create a second room and put the intermediary and the court user in that room.

Why are intermediary rooms used?

Commonly, the intermediary room is arranged by the court without any discussion with the intermediary. From my experience, the use of the intermediary room is often necessitated by having the assistance of an interpreter. However, another key reason why intermediary rooms were used was due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CVP is still used in court proceedings today, for example, when barristers request to attend remotely due to a conflicting matter, or when professional witnesses are required to give evidence. CVP can also be used when people in custody are required to attend court hearings or partake in intermediary assessments. However, it is becoming less common for intermediary rooms to be used to facilitate work with a court user.

The positives

The main (and most significant) positive is being able to provide live, real-time explanations without having to use a different device and without disrupting the flow of the hearing. It is also useful when there are natural pauses during court, as it means that the court user can ask questions and make comments in real-time. However, this system, whilst theoretically a good solution, is not without its flaws…

The downsides

Ironically, in my experience, communicating using the intermediary room is often difficult. It can be difficult to hear the court user speak and hear the court at the same time. There is no way to adjust the volume in the courtroom, or the separate room, which means that intermediaries can often feel that they are either not hearing the court user, or not hearing the court properly. Due to these difficulties, court users may be put in a position where they have to choose between listening to the hearing or engaging with the simplifications given by their intermediary.

Trying to communicate with the court user in this kind of setting can be overwhelming for them as there can be many communication ‘inputs’ to attend to, without always being able to visualise the faces of the participants.

If court users do not have access to a laptop, they may be required to join the hearing from their mobile phones or be dialled in. If they are joining the hearing from a mobile phone, they may not be able to see and visualise all of the participants as there is limited space on their mobile phone screen. If court users are dialled in, then they would not be able to see any faces at all, as being dialled in is essentially like being on a telephone call. The picture quality of the hearing is also often reduced, and the intermediary and court user appear smaller on the main hearing room screen (due to split screening), which makes it difficult for the people in the main hearing room to see the intermediary and court user in detail.

Technological difficulties can also be a big issue.

A woman with her head in her hands looking at a laptop. She looks very stressed.
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Oftentimes, the volume of the main hearing is too loud, meaning that it can be a struggle for the intermediary and court user to effectively communicate. It can be challenging to talk over the conflicting voices in court, which results in difficulty hearing one another. The sound feedback can also be quite bad, which makes communicating harder. So, it can be difficult for intermediaries to provide real-time explanations, as they can only realistically communicate in brief moments, when there is a natural pause in the main hearing room.

All of the participants may not have good and stable Wi-Fi connections, especially if cameras are turned on. Turning the cameras off can improve the internet stability and sound, however, it means that the intermediary cannot see the court user. Therefore, it is harder to interact, and there is no way of ensuring that the court user can hear what is being said or monitor their participation. Turning cameras off would also mean that court users would have no visual reference to determine who is in the courtroom and who is speaking.

The intermediary room is often muted during the hearing, which makes it very difficult for the intermediary to communicate any difficulties or recommendations which arise to the court. Sometimes, it is not clear when the room is muted, and intermediaries can accidentally interrupt the hearing! There is the chat box function, which only the clerk or organiser has sight of, but it can take a while for them to notice any messages. In most cases, intermediaries have to get an email across via the barrister to the judge to make any recommendations or adjustments.

Overall, based on the feedback I received from other intermediaries at Communicourt, there tends to be more negatives than positives to the intermediary room. It should be borne in mind that the intermediary room was created to replicate something virtually that generally worked really well in person. This technology was developed during a time of crisis to improve access for court users who had no choice but to attend hearings remotely. Unfortunately, however, the technology currently available undermines what is theoretically a good idea.

In an ideal world, intermediaries would have:

  • Adjustable volume settings which the intermediary can operate in the intermediary room.

  • A selection of notifications that the intermediary can use to communicate with the main hearing room (for example, ‘pause’, ‘break’, ‘intervene’, ‘slow down’, etc).

  • Make the intermediary room chat box content visible to the main hearing room, to improve communication between the two rooms.

Until these changes are developed and implemented, there are a few tools and strategies intermediaries have at their disposal to help overcome the limitations of the intermediary room:

  • Confirm with the court first that they are allocated their own room before they start to speak (as they cannot usually see if they are in a separate room).

  • Make sure that both they and the court user have their cameras on, as the platform is most effectively used that way (they can see, hear, and monitor both attention and emotional regulation more effectively).

  • Recommend and use a “pause” and “break” sign which the intermediary can hold up. The “pause” sign is to request a short pause while the intermediary gives a simplification or checks understanding/wellbeing of the court user (during which, the main hearing room is quiet so the court user can hear the intermediary). The “break” sign is to request a complete break.

  • Ensure they have the email address of the clerk or barrister to pass on any messages, in case the clerk takes a while to notice their message in the chat box.

To learn more about the intermediary role, visit our library of free resources, created by intermediaries for legal professionals. The Access Brief is a growing bank of bite-sized guides covering everything from the intermediary role when court users also have an interpreter, to communication tips for clients who have a diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury.