A woman standing in a desert landscape. She is holding a picture frame in front of her face and torso. The contents of the frame is blank, showing the clouds and landscape, suggesting this part of her body is invisible. Text reads: Case Study - the invisible intermediary.

Case Study: The Invisible Intermediary

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this case study reflect the experiences and opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Communicourt. 

A woman standing in a desert landscape. She is holding a picture frame in front of her face and torso. The contents of the frame is blank, showing the clouds and landscape, suggesting this part of her body is invisible. Text reads: Case Study - the invisible intermediary.

A strange paradox about the intermediary role is that, in many (although not all) cases, the more effectively an intermediary supports someone with communication needs to participate in their legal proceedings, the less visible their work can be in the courtroom.

The better emotionally regulated a court user is, the better able they are to maintain their attention, to understand questions put to them in evidence, to understand legal concepts, the court process and the evidence of others – the more smoothly proceedings run, with fewer interventions required by the intermediary in the courtroom itself.

Beyond breaks

For the judge, who makes decisions regarding intermediary applications, the work of an intermediary is often only visible when breaks, adjustments and adaptations are requested in the courtroom. From conversations I have had, there is sometimes the perception that intermediaries do little more than request breaks.

This perception becomes especially significant when judges are considering intermediary applications, and need to decide whether sufficient adaptations can be made by the court, in the absence of an intermediary, to mitigate communication difficulties.

  • The court certainly can implement breaks without the assistance of an intermediary. Although, as a side note, I have witnessed judges ask court users with communication needs directly whether they require a break. In many cases the individual will respond, “No”, either through a desire to conclude proceedings as swiftly as possible, through lack of insight into their needs, or through feeling unable to advocate for their own needs when spoken to by a judge. However, it is evident (from the vantage point of an intermediary) that a break is required to support the person’s attention, emotional regulation and/or ability to continue processing verbal information effectively.

In many cases, much of the most impactful work of an intermediary is undertaken ‘behind the scenes’ in conference rooms and waiting areas, and may only be visible to the court user themselves and their legal team. Such work may include (but is certainly not limited to):

  • Supporting emotional regulation throughout proceedings through building rapport and implementing person-centred strategies (from teaching breathing techniques to manage anxiety in hearings, to implementing methods for the individual to express feelings of frustration in a non-disruptive way – for example, encouraging them to whisper their response to the intermediary, with a clear understanding that this information will be written down and shared with counsel in conference, to ensure they feel heard).
  • Supporting understanding of the court process, through pre-hearing familiarisation visits, visual schedules and other methods (which can have a knock-on positive impact on attention, emotional regulation and overall understanding of the case).
  • Supporting understanding of key issues and legal concepts in the case through simple explanations and/or the use of visual aids in conferences (which can then also be used in the courtroom). This work helps ensure that the court user can give clear, informed instructions to their legal team (preventing unexpected changes in position, or misunderstandings arising) and follow the thrust of hearings more effectively.
  • Working with counsel to ensure the format of questions to be put to the court user in evidence will be clearly understood, and can be clearly responded to.
  • Working with the court user in advance of their evidence to ensure they understand the process of giving evidence (from the meaning of the affirmation, to what steps they should take if they do not understand a question, or lose focus etc).
  • Supporting understanding and retention of important information in the case. For example, through frequent recaps of key points in explanation breaks, or through simple visual aids and/or ‘easy read’ documents, which the individual can take home, clearly setting out key information, such as a contact plan or the rules contained in a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many ‘invisible intermediary’ tasks a judge may not be privy to in legal proceedings. In fact, as much of our work is person-centred and directly responds to an individual need or communication preference, it is challenging to fully catalogue the ‘unseen’ work which may take place to support effective participation in each, unique case.

Case study

To illustrate this principle, I have provided a case study below. (All names and identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity).

Background

I attended a short hearing to assist a court user. At the last minute, the court user was permitted to attend remotely. I was not informed of this change and attended court in person. No alternative means of communication between myself and the court user had been discussed or arranged. Counsel did not raise the matter with me, so I needed to independently explore ways to assist the court user remotely.

Pre-hearing

I asked for the court user’s contact information from counsel, and called them to explore what communication devices they had and what could be used effectively by them during the hearing. I also used this call to develop rapport, to ensure they felt as comfortable as possible communicating with me.

I established that they would join via a tablet and felt able to text me during the hearing using their smartphone. I was aware from the intermediary report that they were able to read short, simple written information. We successfully trialled communicating via text prior to the hearing. During the pre-hearing call, I provided a simple outline of the structure of the hearing, and the key topics which would be raised (information I had obtained from counsel and sought permission to recap and check with their client).

In the hearing

At the outset of the hearing, before the judge entered the courtroom, the court user texted me, asking who was present. This reassured me that they were able to use this communication channel while joining remotely. I asked those in the courtroom to stand up and introduce themselves and their role via the link, and did so myself. I also thanked the court user for sending me this question, encouraging them to keep using this strategy to raise any difficulties or questions they may have.

  • Although hearing attendees are often formally introduced to the judge at the outset of the hearing, this task is usually undertaken very rapidly by one representative in the case. This can be challenging for some court users with communication needs to follow, and it can be difficult to identify who each person being referred to by the ‘introducer’ is.

When the judge entered and began the hearing, I sought permission to continue communicating with the court user via text.  The judge raised concerns about my attendance, expressing that this was the type of hearing in which intermediary attendance was not appropriate, as I would be unable to be of assistance to a remote court user.

However, as the hearing progressed, unexpected, urgent issues which had not been explained in advance to the court user were raised. Throughout the hearing, I had relayed simple summaries of key points to the court user via text. They responded each time with their view on each matter in simple terms. This indicated that they had read my simplification and understood the thrust of the hearing. When this new matter arose, they expressed confusion via text, and I provided further, simplified explanation.

Once they had a clear understanding of this new matter, they raised a clear view, which I immediately shared with counsel. Counsel could then communicate the court user’s new instructions on the point in their submissions. This was a very important instruction in the context of the case, which changed the trajectory of the hearing, and the next steps in proceedings.

Reflections

Without intermediary assistance in this case, albeit remote, it is my view that the court user would not have understood or followed the new, important matter which was raised. I take this view due to the confusion they expressed via text in response to my initial summary of the point.

In the event that the matter had been attended to and understood by the court user, I am also of the view that they would not have been able to independently raise their new, pivotal instructions with counsel. This is due to two factors:

  • The likely absence of a pre-determined channel of communication with counsel, which could have been used effectively during the hearing
  • Particular difficulties (which I will not explore here to maintain anonymity), which would have made it exceedingly unlikely that the court user would have felt (or been) able to verbally interject via a remote link, or raise their hand, to indicate that they needed to speak with their representative, during the course of the hearing.

The effectiveness of remote intermediary assistance (or otherwise) is a whole issue worthy of another blog post, but I believe this case study illustrates that crucial communication assistance can still be provided in this medium. I also believe it illustrates that a great deal of intermediary work, which can significantly support effective participation, is often ‘invisible’ to judges and other legal representatives.


I hope this blog goes some way towards unpacking some of the ‘unseen’ aspects of the intermediary role. This is simply one example, in my view, of the often ‘invisible support’ which prevents miscommunication, and which helps ensure the effective participation of court users with communication needs.

In my experience, and the experience of Communicourt colleagues I have spoken with, there are many, many other such examples of assistance provided ‘behind the scenes’. These examples will look different to my case study above, as intermediary strategies must be person-centred and are case dependent. But whatever those interventions may be, they are likely to be quietly making a considerable difference to the court user’s effective participation, and to the proceedings as a whole.

Headshot of Maddy, she is standing outside and wearing a light blue shirt.

Former Intermediary awarded Gray’s Inn Scholarship

Headshot of Maddy, she is standing outside and wearing a light blue shirt.

Congratulations to Maddy Burt, who has been awarded a Gray’s Inn Scholarship to support her undertaking the Law Conversion Course and Bar Course. Maddy worked as a Communicourt intermediary, and we are delighted that she will be bringing this experience into her future legal practice. Maddy kindly shared her professional journey, her next steps and what she learned during her time as a court intermediary:

What have you been up to since leaving Communicourt?

I left Communicourt last September, and it has been a whirlwind since then! I moved from London to York, and jumped into two mini pupillages on the northeastern circuit. I then began my law conversion course, which has been eight months of intense study (with Christmas and Easter spent revising for exams). I have enjoyed the course greatly, but am looking forward to having some time off.

Tell us about your scholarship.

I am very grateful to have received a scholarship from Gray’s Inn (one of the four Inns of Court all barristers are a part of) for both my law conversion course and my upcoming bar course. Having the support of Gray’s Inn this past year has helped me financially, given me confidence in my career choice and ability, and allowed me access to all the Inn has to offer, such as mentoring schemes and advocacy development opportunities. I wouldn’t be able to study the bar course full time this coming September without Gray’s Inn continued support through the bar course scholarship.

What’s next for you?

I’m spending the next couple of weeks in court in London and Leeds on mini pupillages, and then I’ll be taking some time off over the summer before starting the Bar Course in September. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the advocacy side of things on the Bar Course.

What are your current career goals?

The areas of law I am most interested in at the moment are crime and family. They are areas I predominantly worked in as an intermediary, and areas I am excited by the prospect of working in as legal counsel. In particular, I am drawn to the importance of client care in both areas, working with people going through a very difficult time, and the frequent opportunities for courtroom advocacy. Depending on the case, there can also be a degree of overlap between the areas.

Did you learn anything from your time as an intermediary, which has supported your career development?

An invaluable skill I learned as an intermediary was communicating with a wide range of people. I would spend a morning presenting a ground rules hearing to a courtroom, justifying and expanding on special measures to a Judge and barristers from the witness box. Then, I would spend the rest of the day breaking down complex court information and expert evidence in order to support a service user with difficulties retaining information. This has further developed my confidence in public speaking, and my creativity in breaking down information – I made use of all sorts from whiteboard drawings to post-it note diagrams.

I also learned how to manage my time effectively, juggling both intermediary assessments and writing up reports with trials and hearings, while travelling around the country – an essential skill to take into the profession of a barrister!

Why did you choose to work as an intermediary?

I was drawn to the intermediary role because of the opportunity it gave me to be in a courtroom on a daily basis in my own capacity as a communication specialist, supporting those with additional needs who would otherwise struggle to engage in the process. Throughout university, I had tutored English to students with learning difficulties and so I had already adopted various strategies to support people with understanding and retention. I saw the intermediary role as an opportunity to continue doing this, while also being immersed in a legal environment.

Has your view of the intermediary role changed, since continuing your legal studies?

It has been interesting attending mini pupillages and being able to watch an intermediary in action – something I rarely got to do while working as an intermediary. I suppose my view of the profession has solidified my feeling that having an intermediary can really support justice being achieved, by allowing people to fully engage in court proceedings involving them. In particular, I feel it is essential for barristers to have vulnerable witness training from as early a stage as possible, both for times when an intermediary is not available or required and for barristers to work most effectively with intermediaries.

The reality is that many more people would benefit from intermediaries than are able to have them, and so ensuring barristers are equipped in how to support their clients who may have communication difficulties is imperative.


The Access Brief logo

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.

Communicourt sponsors Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards 2024

We are delighted to be sponsoring this year’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards, otherwise known as the LALYs.

Communicourt is sponsoring the ‘Disability Rights’ category and nominations are now open.

This will be the 22nd Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards and nominations will close on 22 April. This is the only annual event solely dedicated to celebrating the work of grassroots social justice lawyers.

This year sees the addition of new award categories, new sponsors, and a distinctive new logo for this well-supported event. Winners in the 12 award categories will be announced at a ceremony in central London on 5 July in front of a 500-plus strong audience.

Communicourt Managing Director Billy Scrimshire said: “I am thrilled that Communicourt is a category sponsor for such an amazing event. I can think of no better way to show our support for the fantastic work of legal aid practitioners, and I am really looking forward to seeing the submissions.”

The categories are:

  1. Legal Aid Newcomer (sponsor – Friends of LALY24)
  2. Legal Aid Support Staffer/Support Team (sponsor – Accesspoint)
  3. Housing Law (sponsor – Leigh Day)
  4. Family Legal Aid, including Children’s Rights (sponsor – Resolution)
  5. Criminal Defence (sponsor – One Pump Court)
  6. Legal Aid Barrister (sponsor – The Bar Council)
  7. Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency (sponsor – The Law Society)
  8. Disability Rights (sponsor – Communicourt)
  9. Regional Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency (sponsor – The Legal Education Foundation)
  10. Social Welfare Law (sponsor – Doughty Street Chambers)
  11. Public Law (sponsor – DG Legal)
  12. Outstanding Achievement (sponsor – Matrix Chambers)

To find out how to make a nomination, please visit the LALY website.

Communicourt announced as a category sponsor at the Yorkshire Legal Awards 2024 

Communicourt is the sponsor for the Criminal Law category in this year’s Yorkshire Legal Awards.  

The Awards is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and the awards ceremony will be held in Leeds in October. Nominations have now opened for the awards and the deadline for submissions is 19 July.  

The Yorkshire Legal Awards brings together the region’s legal community to recognise and celebrate its many achievements. 

This is the first time Communicourt has been a sponsor for this award.

Managing Director Billy Scrimshire said: “Our court intermediaries work with many legal professionals in and around Yorkshire, and we see first hand how vital their work is. It is a pleasure to be able to sponsor a category at these awards.” 

More information about the rules of entry for these awards is available on the Yorkshire Legal Awards 2024 website.  

 

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: https://uniofbath.questionpro.eu/t/AB3uyQnZB3vi1j or contact autismincourt@bath.ac.uk 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. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1117415

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 events@communicourt.co.uk

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.

Why JUSTICE?

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)

Autism

  • 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 events@communicourt.co.uk.

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References

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.


Monday

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

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.

Wednesday

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)

Thursday

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

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.  

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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.