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.

Picture of Florence in black and white with a purple background. The text reads "Being a Me with Epilepsy".

Being a ‘me’ with epilepsy

It’s National Epilepsy Week. This year’s theme is “Epilepsy Matters”, which encourages people with epilepsy to share their experiences and the things which matter to them about epilepsy. To mark the occassion, Communicourt intermediary Florence has shared her own experiences of epilepsy, alongside helpful learning and tips for court professionals who may be working with a client who has the condition. At the end of the post, you’ll also find information about how to help someone who is experiencing a tonic-clonic seizure.

Being a “me” with epilepsy

by Florence Roberts-Bowman, Communicourt intermediary

When I was about 8, I woke up in a wheelchair in hospital. I was a bit confused, as the last thing I really knew, I’d been watching Saturday morning programs on our big [cathode ray] tv. I don’t remember being particularly scared, just embarrassed to be wearing my pyjamas in public.

I don’t know to what degree a diagnosis of epilepsy impacted my little 8-year-old self. I knew that we got a new TV. I knew that I often had to close my eyes during films and theatre trips when everything got a bit strobe-y (which is always, annoyingly, during the best bits!). I didn’t have any responsibility for researching or managing my condition because my parents did all of that. And, thankfully, it wasn’t something that was intrinsically worrying for me. I used to enjoy an appointment at Walton Neuro, as it meant time off school, and invariably ended in a trip to the café. Over time, I’ve managed to glean dribs and drabs of information from specialists, understanding that there was a genetic aspect, a mutation. I have a letter somewhere about exactly what frequencies will set me of.

I will admit I’m not the ultimate authority on epilepsy. Firstly, I tend not to be awake or able to look in a mirror during a seizure, so I have no idea what they look like. Secondly, whenever I do engage in literature about epilepsy I get hit with words like ‘death’, ‘mortality’ etc., and that’s not particularly palatable. And I suppose, finally, thinking about what having epilepsy actually means sometimes makes me want to run back to that café and have a coffee and a brownie.

With that said, I thought I’d take some time to engage and explore what epilepsy means to me and other people with the condition, particularly those who we encounter in a court context.


As I’ve grown up, I’ve learnt a lot more about what epilepsy is, and I’ve often found that, actually, it is quite difficult to find commonality between experiences. It surprised me to learn that only 3 in 100 people have photosensitive epilepsy (triggered by flashing lights or contrasting patterns – Epilepsy Action, 2022)[1]. Other seizure triggers might include:

  • Tiredness
  • Stress
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Menstrual periods
  • Missing meals
  • Increased temperature due to illness(Epilepsy Action, 2020)[2].

This is why it is important not to assume that someone with epilepsy will be triggered by flashing lights, and instead seek to understand their individual experiences, where necessary. In a court environment, stress and tiredness are particularly important considerations. It’s essential for court professionals to be cognisant of someone’s presentation and to minimise possible triggers.

Important questions to ask to gain this information could be:

  • What things cause you to have a seizure?
  • What warning do you get?
  • How often do they happen?
  • What time of day do they happen?

(Epilepsy Action, 2023)[3]

A starting point when working with someone with epilepsy is to check in with them at the beginning of and throughout the day, in order to monitor whether they have slept or are particularly anxious or stressed. Some questions like ‘did you sleep well?’ or ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ are very innocuous but can offer helpful insight. If long days in court, early rises, or travel are an issue, then shorter court days could be arranged.

When working with someone with epilepsy, it is also important to have a mechanism for breaks to be taken flexibly or on a more urgent basis. This may be to clear the court if someone is having a seizure or if the person is experiencing a sign that a seizure is approaching (for example someone may experience visual hallucinations before certain seizure types).  As these warning signs (or certain seizure types) may not always be immediately obvious, it can be helpful to have someone close at hand to monitor presentation or provide the court user with a mechanism to request a break themselves (e.g., holding up a card or using a signal).

Having said that, I recently asked a janitor a Leeds Crown Court to turn off the flickering light in the toilets, so sometimes there is a straightforward answer!

Seizure types

When I had my first seizure it was the notorious ‘thrashing around on the floor’ type. The name for this is tonic-clonic or, alternatively, ‘grand mal’. I prefer the name grand mal because that would mean ‘big bad’ and that seems a fair description. It was only later that I was recognised as experiencing absence seizures (petit mal), which is where I forget where I am for a brief minute and flicker my eyes.

The impact that these seizures have on my life is markedly different to a tonic-clonic seizure. I will usually have a couple of absence seizures in the morning, generally at the weekend. Occasionally someone will point these out to me, but it doesn’t affect my activities. It’s more of a concern for me that people think I’m being rude and rolling my eyes. In contrast, if I had a tonic-clonic seizure, I would need some time to go and sleep it off. It would be a lot more concerning. If someone called an ambulance because I had an absence seizure, I would be quite annoyed because it was a waste of time. On the other hand, if I had a tonic-clonic seizure, it could be an appropriate step.

There are lots of different seizure types and it is important to appreciate factors like:

  • Different seizure presentations
  • Their varied impacts on the individual
  • The kind of assistance the person would require during and after the seizure.

Seizure types are classified according to where they arise from in the brain. They can start from:

  • A single location (focal)
  • Both hemispheres (generalised)
  • An unknown location in the brain

(ILAE, 2017)[4

The presentation of that seizure will then relate to its origin. For example, the seizures I experience both have a generalised onset.

Another important area of variation is the individual’s level of awareness during seizures. For example, in a tonic-clonic seizure someone will lose consciousness, but in a focal aware seizure an individual would not lose awareness. It is important to appreciate that, for someone who experiences seizures in only part of their brain, the symptoms can be very different.

For example, in the case of a focal seizure, someone may experience:

  • Sensory symptoms (like unusual smells or tastes, a tingling)
  • Emotional symptoms like a feeling of dread or déjà vu
  • Involuntary motor movements (like lip smacking, wandering around)
  • Being vacant
  • Automatic body functions (such as swallowing).

(ILAE, 2017)[4]

These visual resources, created by the Epilepsy Society may be helpful in understanding seizure classifications:

Whilst I think it is important to appreciate the differences between seizures, I am by no means saying that you need to know your ‘tonic’ from your ‘hyperkinetic’. That would be a difficult task as there are 40 seizure types[5]!  Most individuals with epilepsy (or someone close to them) will know what symptoms they experience, what triggers them, how often they have them, and what, if any, help they need. I particularly appreciate resources such as the first aid information on the Epilepsy Action website which highlight that what you should do in the case of a seizure is likely to vary a lot.

Important questions to ask someone about their seizures could be:

  • How long are your seizures?
  • What happens when you have a seizure?
  • Do you get a warning before you have a seizure?
  • How long does it take to recover?
  • Do you need any first aid after a seizure?
  • Do you need any help after a seizure?
  • Do you take any medication?

(Epilepsy Action 2023)[6]

IMPORTANT: Whilst the first aid required for people experiencing seizures may vary, it is important that if someone experiences a seizure that is over five minutes long, an ambulance should be called. The name for this is Status Epilepticus[7], which carries a risk of mortality and can lead to medical and neurological complications.

Perception and comorbidities

In court, I once worked with a service user who had epilepsy. She had an epilepsy alert bracelet that would often go off and sent an alert to her phone to let her know that she had a seizure. Often, she did not notice herself that she had them, but it didn’t phase her, it wasn’t dramatic, and we didn’t have to adjourn when the alert sounded.

This presentation and impact differs from the wider perception of epilepsy, as many may misperceive seizures as dramatic and debilitating. Alongside misperceptions about the symptoms of epilepsy, there are also seem to be many stereotypes about the lives people with epilepsy lead. In literature around epilepsy, descriptors such as ‘socially isolated’ often crop up. As with so many of the things I have discussed here, I think this is, at best, a generalisation – something that a brief caveat could dispel…

For some people with epilepsy, certain activities are restricted, but I don’t think there is anything inherent in people with epilepsy that means they would have difficulty interacting or forming relationships. I particularly wouldn’t want a panicked parent reading that on Google while waiting in A&E after their child has had their first fit. I’d choose to believe that, where people with epilepsy are socially isolated, this is because of the barriers in society rather than there being an aspect of epileptic people that means they are ostracised. However, I know this is perhaps my own cross to bear. At least society has stopped believing that people with epilepsy are possessed by evil spirits (Kaculini et al. 2021)[8]!

Of course, I know that these misconceptions about epilepsy arise because some people lead very different lives to me. People with epilepsy experience higher rates of certain comorbidities. For example, around 1 in 5 people with epilepsy have a learning disability (Epilepsy Society, 2019)[9]. Additionally, the cause of some epilepsies may affect the individual in its own right (for example in the case on head injury or stroke)[10]. Epilepsy often co-occurs with Cerebral Palsy, with studies giving incidence figures of Epilepsy in Cerebral Palsy as between 15 to 60% and higher (Sadowska et al. 2020) [11] . Further, the relationship between Epilepsy and different conditions can be complex. The risk for autistic children having epilepsy without a learning disability is 8% and the risk of epilepsy for autistic people who have a severe learning disability is 20% (National Autistic Society 2017)[12].  Thus, for these groups, epilepsy may be just one factor that makes up their presentation or need.

Whilst I was researching this blog, I read that in the UK 70% of people with epilepsy could be seizure free and only 52% are actually seizure free[13]. That’s quite a stark thing to read, but it does make me wonder whether that is because there are people who don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves like I do. Other people that may not have had the same impetus to control their seizures as I did, such as living independently, or going to university.


I’m never quite sure how epileptic I am. I don’t have tonic-clonic seizures anymore because of my medication, so, theoretically, I could never tell anyone and be ‘normal’. I don’t tend to believe that epilepsy impacts my life, but, at the same time, I’ve never had a burning urge to be an HGV driver or a DJ in Ibiza. I am lucky to have found a job where it is the norm to travel on public transport and I do not need to drive. Things like that make me feel that I’m making choices and my path in life hasn’t been determined because of my epilepsy. But that might not always be the same and, at some point, I’ll have to change my medication and I may feel a lot less ‘normal’ again.

For about 10 years of my life, I’ve been taking Sodium Valporate (Epilim). This successfully controls my seizures, and felt a bit like a magic pill when other medications weren’t 100% effective. However, Sodium Valporate has become a lot more (in)famous recently for causing birth defects[14], which means that I’m continually telling health professionals that I won’t be becoming pregnant, and being offered other, less preferable, medications. Thinking about changing my medication is a big, ominous unknown. It’s hard to think about giving up my ‘normal’.

I described this predicament to an advocate and service user once, as the service user had children who were epileptic. The advocate took a breath and then responded, “You could get a dog”. I laughed and responded that you can’t get dogs for epilepsy like you do guide dogs. She replied, “You could get a dog instead”.   

I’m a little more reticent now about talking to service users with epilepsy about my epilepsy. I used to think that it’s useful to share experiences as a way to relate and form rapport. Now I think that there are so many differences in what that actually means, that it’s not fair to compare. I think you have to give people space to feel what they want about it because, even if nothing disastrous is happening at the moment with your health condition, it’s still always there in the background. And I start and end every day by taking my pills.

For National Epilepsy Week, the charity Epilepsy Action is encouraging people to watch and share the video below, which explains how to help someone who is having a tonic-clonic siezure. You can learn more about epilepsy, donate and get involved in National Epilepsy Week by following and exploring organisations like Epilepsy Action, Epilepsy Society and Young Epilepsy.









[8] Kaculini CM, Tate-Looney AJ, Seifi A. The History of Epilepsy: From Ancient Mystery to Modern Misconception. Cureus. 2021 Mar 17;13(3):e13953. doi: 10.7759/cureus.13953. PMID: 33880289; PMCID: PMC8051941.



[11]  Małgorzata Sadowska, Beata Sarecka-Hujar & Ilona Kopyta (2020) Cerebral Palsy: Current Opinions on Definition, Epidemiology, Risk Factors, Classification and Treatment Options, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, , 1505-1518, DOI: 10.2147/NDT.S235165  




Dementia Action Week text. It reads, "It's not called getting old, it's called getting ill".

Dementia Action Week 15-21st May

Dementia Action Week is all about supporting people with dementia and raising awareness of this common degenerative condition. There are currently around 900,000 people affected by dementia in the UK. This year, the theme of Dementia Action Week is Diagnosis. The Alzheimer’s Society has chosen this focus to highlight a recent decline in dementia diagnosis rates, demonstrate the benefits of receiving a diagnosis and tackle misconceptions about memory loss being a normal part of aging.

Video from Alzheimer’s Society

What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain. Each type of dementia stops a person’s brain cells (neurones) working properly in specific areas, affecting their ability to remember, think and speak.

There are over 200 different types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, followed by vascular dementia. Different types of dementia cause damage to different parts of the brain, and therefore have different symptoms. Each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. People often associate dementia with memory loss, but while this is the case for some, there are many other symptoms including:

• Problems with concentration.

• Difficulty following a ‘train of thought’.

• Difficulty following conversations.

• Problems with word finding.

• Difficulties making decisions and judgements.

• Difficulties with eating, drinking, and swallowing.

• Changes in personality or behaviour; becoming withdrawn.

• Difficulties with visual perception and spatial awareness.

• Literacy and numeracy difficulties.

• Problems with perception, orientation and movement

Dementia is progressive, as time goes on, communication will likely become more difficult for someone with dementia. Although dementia can take years to advance, symptoms can worsen at each stage. Receiving a diagnosis is often an important step towards managing symptoms and coping with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society found that 90% of people reported that getting a diagnosis had been helpful, citing a number of reasons, including access to professional advice and support, the ability to plan for the future and avoiding reaching ‘crisis point’.

Dementia and legal proceedings

While some participants in legal proceedings who have dementia may be found to lack capacity (or may not be fit to plead), others will have capacity but may have cognitive or communication challenges which the court will need to accommodate to ensure fair participation.

In this blog, we’ll explore some of the common cognitive and communication difficulties which might impact an individual with dementia’s participation in legal proceedings. We’ll also unpack some strategies which can be used to assist.

Aphasia (using and understanding language)

People with the most common types of dementia, for example, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, usually have a mild form of aphasia (NHS). Aphasia is a communication disorder which impacts a person’s expressive and receptive communication.

Expressive aphasia affects someone’s ability to find the right words. Sometimes related words might be used instead, for example (‘vehicle’ instead of ‘helicopter’) or substitute descriptions (‘thing to put food on’ instead of ‘plate’) may be used. Other people may find it difficult to insert a replacement word. Expressive aphasia doesn’t mean that an individual doesn’t recognise a person, item or term, or doesn’t know what they are discussing, they are simply unable to access the correct name or ‘label’.

If the person with expressive aphasia struggles to find the words they want to use, or they use words which don’t make sense, acknowledge what they’ve said and encourage them to say more. It may also be helpful to encourage them to draw, write or gesture, to help them convey what they wish to communicate. Additionally, if they struggle to find the words they want to use, or use words which don’t make sense, it may be helpful to acknowledge what the person has said, then encourage them to explain further.

Receptive aphasia affects the person’s understanding, making it difficult for someone to process and understand the language they hear.

If someone with dementia finds it challenging to understand verbal information, it can help to use simple language and concrete examples. Avoid using complex language or abstract concepts. Instead use familiar ‘everyday’ words to help the person understand what you are saying. Speaking in short sentences and imagining giving information in ‘bullet points’ can also be helpful. Make sure you clearly indicate when you begin a new topic and allow extra time for the person to refocus when switching between subjects.

It may be useful to use non-verbal communication yourself when interacting with someone with dementia. For example, a great deal of information can be conveyed through body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Visual prompts can also be helpful, for example a pictorial list of the stages in a trial.

Speech difficulties

People with dementia may experience changes in their tone of voice or pitch. They may speak more slowly or loudly than usual, or they may sound more monotone. This can make it difficult for others to understand their speech or to interpret their emotion. If someone with dementia is not able to express themselves clearly, they may lose confidence, and feel anxious or depressed. They may also get frustrated because they are not able to communicate in the way they used to.

If a person is finding communicating through speech challenging, there may be strategies which assist. Non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, and body language, can play an essential role in communication. For some individuals, exploring other communication mediums (such as writing, texting or typing) may also be assistive.

Technology is also a great asset, with many apps available to help support communication. Some helpful apps include:

Memory problems

Memory loss can be a symptom of any type of dementia, it is often among the very first signs in Alzheimer’s disease, and this can impact communication in several ways. People with dementia may repeat themselves or forget what they were saying, losing their ‘train of thought’. They may also have difficulty remembering important information such as names, dates or events.

Memory loss can be a distressing part of dementia, both for the person with the condition and for the people close to them. Memory loss can occur due to damage to the brain, affecting areas involved in creating and retrieving memories.

In court, it is especially important that respondents or defendants (in particular) can follow the thrust of evidence and retain key details from hearings, in order to make informed decisions. It may be helpful to give the person with dementia written cues, such as a ‘court diary’ to assist with their retention of their hearing or trial. If reading is difficult for them, voice notes may be of assistance. Regular recaps of key points may aid the person with dementia to retain important details. Another helpful measure is taking regular breaks within the court day to check the individual’s retention and understanding of details, and to allow them to ask questions about anything they are unsure about.

Other cognitive difficulties

As dementia progresses, it can become challenging for people to maintain their focus on a conversation or activity for an extended period. They may become increasingly distracted or lose focus, leading to a disjointed or incomplete conversation, or causing them to miss important information. It’s also important to consider the impact of fatigue, which may be more severe.

Dementia affects the brain and has an impact on cognitive ability. Therefore, someone with dementia may not be able to think as quickly as they used to, may not understand complex ideas and may become easily confused. They may need additional processing time to figure out how to respond to a sentence or question. It can also be harder for people with dementia to hold multiple pieces of information in mind at once.

In court (if the individual has capacity), the individual’s cognitive functioning will need to be considered so that strategies can be put in place to ensure they can participate in their trial or hearing to the best of their ability. Strategies may include shorter court days, more frequent breaks, regular recapping of information and the other memory supportive strategies explored in the previous section. It may also be helpful to find out what time of day they are best able to attend to information (for example, when they feel most alert and least fatigued) and to schedule key events within the trial or hearing to accommodate these needs (for example, scheduling their evidence when they are most alert).

Dementia can have a significant impact on cognition and communication, including during legal proceedings. The difficulties associated with dementia can hinder an individual’s ability to understand and retain information, and express themselves effectively, potentially impacting their ability to participate in their trial or hearing. However, small adjustments can improve participation for people with dementia, depending on the nature and progress of their condition. It is crucial for court professionals to employ strategies that accommodate the unique needs of the individual.

What are Special Measures?

What are special measures and when are they implemented in legal proceedings? Intermediary Georgia Fleming explores the adjustments family and criminal courts can make to improve access to justice for court users with communication difficulties.

Photo by Mahosadha Ong on Unsplash

When talking about “special measures” in court, most people immediately think about large screens concealing witnesses and children giving evidence via video link. Whilst those strategies are perhaps the most well-known, they are not the only measures that we, as intermediaries, recommend to improve an individual’s participation in legal proceedings.

In simple terms, special measures are adjustments to typical court practices, which are made to help court users (particularly vulnerable witnesses and family court respondents with communication needs) participate fully in court proceedings. Special measures are sometimes also available to defendants with identified needs.

Special measures can vary whether you are in a family court or a criminal court. It is our job, as intermediaries, to look at a service user’s communication profile and determine what strategies or measures would assist to ensure that they can engage fully in proceedings, in the relevant setting. It’s also important to note that special measures can be implemented at any stage of proceedings, they are not restricted to during a court user’s evidence.

In this blog post, we will be looking at special measures in courts and how they can assist service users. We will also explore some of the different ways that we, as intermediaries, ensure best participation and engagement in court, including our role in recommending special measures to the court, following intermediary assessment of the individual concerned.

Special Measures and Criminal Court

Special measures in criminal court were first introduced in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (YJCEA).  This act outlined a range of measures that can be applied to facilitate the gathering and giving of evidence by vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

Not everybody can ask for special measures, however. In court, a witness or defendant may request special measures if:

  • They are under the age of 18
  • They have a mental health difficulty
  • They have a learning disability
  • They have a physical disability
  • They are an intimidated witness
  • They are a victim of a serious crime
  • Or a combination of the above

Just because a person is eligible, does not mean the court will grant special measures. The court has to be sure that the use of special measures will assist defendant or witness to participate fully in proceedings and give their “best evidence”.

Special Measures and Family Court

The guidelines regarding special measures in family court are similar. Special measures are granted for “vulnerable” individuals in family court proceedings under the Family Procedures Rules 2010A. The 2010 Family Procedures Rules (FPRs) were updated in 2017 to ensure that vulnerable individuals were treated more fairly in family court. Previous reports had suggested that the family justice system lagged behind the criminal justice system in its procedures protecting vulnerable individuals. The updated FPR sets out more clearly what constitutes a vulnerable individual and notes that it is imperative that individuals who may be vulnerable are identified as early as possible in the court process. The updated FPR recognises that there are several ways in which an individual might be considered vulnerable. Vulnerabilities may relate to:

  • the social and cultural background and ethnic origins of the party or witness
  • the domestic circumstances or religious beliefs of the party or witness
  • the ability of the party to understand proceedings, make informed decisions and give instructions.

The criteria for special measures in criminal court (above) also apply to family proceedings, e.g., age, mental health difficulty, learning difficulties etc.

Special measures are not restricted to respondents in a family case, but also apply to intervenors, witnesses and child witnesses who are involved. The FPR also state that a Ground Rules Hearing is essential to ensure fairness throughout the trial. The Ground Rules Hearing is also a great opportunity for us intermediaries to speak to the court and make our recommendations.

Examples of Special Measures

There are many examples of special measures which can be implemented in court. Such as:

  • Intermediary assistance – The assistance of an intermediary during a trial or a family court hearing is an example of a special measure. The role of an intermediary is to facilitate communication between the courts and the service user. This involves the intermediary assessing someone’s communication profile and considering different strategies which can assist them with the court process, then implementing these strategies to support the service user’s understanding, engagement and participation.

  • Screens – These can be used so that a witness is only seen by the barristers, the judge and the jury (if in criminal court). This can help alleviate anxiety and help the witness to better engage in proceedings. Anxiety can impact an individual’s participation and concentration in court, as well as their ability to focus and answer questions accurately when giving evidence. Moreover, screens can help shield a witness so that they do not have to see certain people in court, which can help manage anxiety levels and improve their engagement.

  • Live link – This enables the individual to give evidence during the trial or hearing from outside the court through a video-link to the courtroom. This can take place from different locations, such as in a video-link room at court, in the individual’s house or from their solicitor’s office.  

  • Evidence given in private – (Criminal court only) This involves excluding members of the public and sometimes even the press from the courtroom during an individual’s evidence. Again, this helps to ensure “best evidence” as well as best possible engagement.

  • The removal of wigs and gowns by judges and barristers – (Criminal court only – N.B. legal professionals do not wear wings and gowns in Youth Court). This measure can help support the emotional management of a court user who may find these accessories intimidating, confusing, distracting and/or anxiety-inducing.  

  • Pre-recorded interview – This is usually permitted for those who are vulnerable or who would not be able to give their “best evidence” in person. The practice allows them to record their evidence in advance, with questions put to them in an agreed manner by an agreed individual. This removes the need for them to give live evidence during proceedings.

What are the advantages to Special Measures?

There are many advantages to having special measures. In some cases, their implementation can completely transform the way in which a person participates in legal proceedings and can help them to give evidence to the best of their ability.

Without special measures, the fairness of a court case can change drastically. For example, if a defendant who suffers from severe anxiety is denied the use of a screen in court, it is likely that their evidence will be seriously affected. They may inadvertently forget key information, have difficulty accurately processing questions put to them, struggle to challenge incorrect assertions put to them or misremember important facts, all due to the effect of their anxiety on giving evidence in front of a courtroom and public gallery. Adaptations, such as the use of a screen or live-link, can allow the defendant to better manage their anxiety and give their best possible evidence to the court (which benefits justice as a whole).

Case Study: 17 year old defendant in Crown Court

I once attended Crown Court to assist a young defendant called Jamie [false name]. We met in the cells with his barrister, and it was clear from the offset that he was extremely nervous. He was restless in his seat, fidgeting with his hands and swinging his feet.  Having read his intermediary report (which noted his diagnosis of ADHD), I was expecting him to present in this way.

He made little eye contact, and his breathing was rapid. Whilst making superficial conversation, he turned to me and said, “You know what scares me the most? The stuff they wear. I’ve seen it on TV”. I asked what he meant, and he replied, “The stuff they put on their heads and the black gowns. Feel like I can’t look at them”. This is not uncommon. For many people, court is daunting, however as a young defendant, you are under particular pressure, due to your age and the unfamiliarity of your surroundings.

I began thinking about ways to make the process easier for him. The trouble is, court is never easy nor straightforward, regardless of individual difficulties. However, due to his age, and particularly his ADHD diagnosis, the trial was going to be especially difficult for Jamie. After 30 minutes in a pre-trial conference with his legal team, it was evident that he was fatigued and disengaged. I could only imagine how he would feel after a full day in court.

In preparing a list of suggested Ground Rules, we always read the intermediary report whilst also considering our own experience of working with the service user. From my meeting with Jamie, I already knew the type of special measures I would recommend in the Ground Rules Hearing. In court, I outlined Jamie’s communication difficulties and recommended the following measures (among others):

  • Gowns and caps to be removed in the courtroom to help minimise Jamie’s anxiety and support his emotional management.
  • All counsel to refer to Jamie by his first name, to aid his engagement throughout proceedings.
  • Jamie to be permitted to use a fidget aid, both in the dock and whilst giving evidence, to assist his concentration.

The judge immediately approved all these measures. When I informed Jamie of this, his demeanour completely changed. It was like a weight had been lifted from him. Just like that, his outlook on the whole trial had transformed. He presented as being more relaxed and focused. It also improved my rapport with Jamie. He began to ask more questions and would let me know if he didn’t understand something. His presentation at the end of the trial was completely different from the beginning, which is testament to the special measures put in place to help his participation.

Unusual special measures

While some special measures are widely recognised and applied, others require greater creativity or may be more unusual. They may be bespoke, in response to the specific court user’s individual needs and difficulties. For example:

  • Altering the lighting in the courtroom, if a person has sensory sensitivities which can impair attention or adversely impact emotional management.

  • Allowing the individual to attend court in clothing (or with a particular item) which assists their emotional regulation (for example, I once assisted an autistic person whose slippers were a special sensory item, which considerably aided his emotional regulation).  

  • Allowing the individual’s therapy animal in the courtroom to alleviate anxiety.

As intermediaries, we are always grateful to the court for considering and permitting measures we recommend. Although they can be effortful to implement, these special measures can be vital in ensuring an individual is able to participate as effectively as possible in proceedings. 

To learn more about special measures, Ground Rules Hearings and the intermediary role, visit The Access Brief, a free library of resources, developed by intermediaries for legal professionals. Here you will also find free, bite-sized guides to assisting court users who have a range of diagnoses and common communication difficulties.

Intermediaries asked ChatGPT to simplify complex legal information

From writing your dissertation to creating a snappy business tagline, ChatGPT is the latest piece of Artificial Intelligence poised to steal your job. Created by Open AI, the tech allows users to ‘chat’ with its system and to ask it to complete an endless range of text-based tasks, from producing copy for a website, to writing poems:

Limerick written by ChatGPT

According to Business Insider, “Chat bots like GPT are powered by large amounts of data and computing techniques to make predictions about stringing words together in a meaningful way. They not only tap into a vast amount vocabulary and information, but also understand words in context. This helps them mimic speech patterns while dispatching an encyclopedic knowledge”.

Intermediaries vs. AI

So, how do ChatGPT’s simplification skills stack up, and could the intermediaries of the future be generated by artificial intelligence? We decided to put it to the test.

Before we put the bot through its paces, it’s important to remember that every person Communicourt supports is unique, with their own, individual profile of communication strengths and difficulties. Intermediaries carefully assess each person’s communication skills, producing bespoke intermediary reports which recommend specific adjustments and strategies to improve the individual’s participation in legal proceedings.

The intermediary role is a person-centred role, which relies heavily on human connection. Rapport building, exploring strategies creatively and responding empathetically to service user needs are core intermediary skills. It is difficult to imagine artificial intelligence replicating these skills any decade soon.

However, with a suite of endlessly adaptable tools behind the scenes, it is theoretically possible to ‘teach’ tools like ChatGPT to explain legal proceedings using a range of different approaches (simplified vocabulary, defining complex terms, using analogy, using ‘flow charts’, using short sentences, using bullet points etc.) which could assist a range of court users with diverse communication needs.

Let battle commence…

To test out the tech, we asked both a Communicourt intermediary and ChatGPT to complete some short simplification tasks. Here are the results:

Round 1: An extract from a court order

Original: All parties must immediately inform the allocated judge as soon as they become aware that any direction given by the court cannot be complied with and to seek in advance an extension of time to comply. In the event that a party fails to comply with directions and/or fails to attend any hearing without good reason the court may make final orders including care orders and placement orders at that hearing.

ChatGPT simplification: All parties must tell the judge if they can’t follow a court order and ask for more time. If they don’t follow the order or show up to a hearing without a good reason, the court may make final orders (decisions) about care and placement.

Intermediary simplification:

Everyone in the case must tell the judge if there are any problems with:

  • Finishing the parenting assessment by 10th February 2023.
  • Getting Dr [NAME] to write down his opinion by 10th February 2023.
  • Doing the drug test by 14th February 2023.

If there are any problems, they must tell the judge and ask for more time.

The judge can make a final decision at the next hearing, even if:

  • You don’t do the tasks the court asked you to do (like the drug test).
  • You don’t come to the next hearing without a good reason.

The judge’s final decision could be:

  • Making a care order (deciding CHILD can’t live with you).
  • Making a placement order (deciding social services can look for a new family for CHILD).

*(invented examples for context).

Round 2: Simplification of court concepts – Threshold

ChatGPT simplifications:

Request: Explain “threshold” in care proceedings in simple terms:

Threshold in care proceedings is a legal term used to describe the level of harm or risk of harm that must be met before the court can make an order taking a child into care. It is based on the principle that it is only in exceptional circumstances that a court should interfere with a family’s right to look after their own children.

Request: Use a flow chart to explain “threshold” in care proceedings in simple terms:

Start: Is there evidence of significant harm to the child?

Yes:→ Proceed to court
No:→ End

Proceed to court
Are there any other factors that suggest the child is at risk of significant harm?

Yes:→ Court will consider threshold criteria
No:→ End
Court will consider threshold criteria.
Does the court believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if no action is taken?

Yes:→ Court will make a care order
No:→ End

Intermediary simplification:

  • Threshold is a word used at family court.
  • It means that the parents* have ‘crossed a line’ and put their child at risk.
  • Social services have to prove to the judge that you have ‘crossed a line’ and put Millie at risk.
  • If the judge believes them, she could decide that Millie can’t live with you anymore.

These are the things social services say ‘crossed a line’ and put Millie at risk:

*(invented examples for context).

Round 3: Simplification of complex concepts – Joint Enterprise

Request: Explain joint enterprise to a person with learning difficulties

Joint enterprise is when two or more people work together to commit a crime. It means that each person involved in the crime is responsible for the actions of the other people involved. For example, if two people rob a bank together, they are both responsible for the robbery even if one person did not actually do anything.

Intermediary simplification:

Joint enterprise is used when two or more people do a crime together.

It means you can be guilty of a crime, even when you didn’t do it yourself.

This is why the police say you stole Kate’s phone*:

  • You didn’t touch the phone or talk to Kate.
  • But you were there when John threatened Kate and took her phone.
  • Your texts show that you knew what John was going to do.
  • You didn’t try to stop him.
  • Because you were standing next to John, Kate felt more scared (there were two of you).
  • This helped John to steal her phone.

This means that the jury can decide you are both guilty of stealing the phone.

*(invented examples for context).

And the winner is…

ChatGPT offered some good, rapid simplification of some concepts and legal documents. However, many lower-frequency words (e.g. “significant harm” and “final order”) and longer sentence structures still appeared in the bot’s simplifications (although it is possible to further refine the app’s output).

However, for time-strapped solicitors working with a client who has difficulty reading complex court documents with understanding (and do not have an intermediary), this technology is certainly something which could prove helpful in future. Of course, AI-simplified documents would require careful review before provision to clients, however, the technology could potentially assist solicitors to provide more accessible court documents to their clients, without needing to simplify the text themselves.

One important aspect of simplification (making concepts, vocabulary and information relevant and concrete for the service user) was particularly absent from the simplifications offered by artificial intelligence. A human intermediary can quickly assimilate information about a case, apply it to their understanding of court concepts and develop simplifications which are accessible for each individual court user in their specific case – all while taking into consideration a very wide range of factors (the environment of the explanation, the service user’s response to intermediary assistance, their emotional regulation, their attention, their communication difficulties and strategies which assist them).

AI certainly has the capacity to eventually attune its output depending on a wide range of variables (like those listed above). However, human connection, responsiveness and adaptability lie at the heart of the intermediary role. So, don’t expect IntermediaryBot3000 to be taking the affirmation in the courtroom any time soon.  

Learn more about the intermediary role

To learn more about simplification or other aspects of the intermediary role, visit The Access Brief (our free library of resources for legal professionals working with a client who has communication needs). You could also tune into the Accessing Justice Podcast to listen to discussions about ensuring equal access to justice for court users with a wide range of diagnoses and difficulties.

Intermediary assistance and EUPD

How does Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) impact court users involved in legal proceedings? And how can an intermediary assist? Communicourt intermediary, Rhianna McGreevy, takes a closer look at this diagnosis and strategies to improve access to justice.

Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder [EUPD] (also known as Borderline Personality Disorder [BPD]), is a complex and misunderstood condition. Individuals who carry this diagnosis may experience longstanding pervasive difficulties in relating to others and themselves. The difficulties that individuals with EUPD experience will usually be apparent in multiple situations across their personal and professional lives.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies 10 personality disorders, which are subdivided into three ‘clusters’. These clusters group the disorders in terms of their defining characteristics. EUPD is one of four personality disorders in Cluster B, all of which are defined by their “dramatic, emotional or erratic” nature.

What causes EUPD?

It is hard to determine what causes EUPD, but studies have suggested that it is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The heritability of EUPD is estimated to be around 46%. However, while genetic pre-disposition may increase your likelihood of diagnosis, there are many other factors that contribute to someone’s overall risk of developing EUPD. The individual, their environment and their personal circumstances are all extremely influential.

It is common for people with EUPD to have experienced a significant trauma. Common environmental factors that have been experienced by people with EUPD include being the victim of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, or the experience of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which can include growing up in a neglectful environment, growing up in fear, or living in the shadow of a relative with poor mental health or substance abuse issues.

Stigma and labels

EUPD is heavily stigmatised as a condition, and individuals with the diagnosis are often deeply and profoundly misunderstood. Using the word ‘disordered’ to describe an individual’s personality can denote a sense that there is something wrong with the very essence of who they are. The individual with EUPD may find that others do not view their behaviour in the context of their diagnosis, but rather see the individual as being wilfully and deliberately unreasonable or selfish.

This simplifies a very complex subjective experience and disregards the deeply rooted causes of EUPD. Our brains are constantly trying to adapt and survive, and personality disorders are often developed in response to difficult circumstances. Emotionally unstable personality disorder, and the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that accompany it, are more helpfully viewed as the brain trying to adapt in order to survive the abandonment, abuse, or neglect it has experienced in the past, and to protect the self from experiencing similar traumas in the future.

Symptoms of EUPD

Individuals with EUPD often live with an intense fear of abandonment. They may carry a deep-rooted belief that they are inherently ‘bad’, and that others are ‘good’. They may also be hypersensitive to the possibility of rejection. If they feel as though there is a threat of being abandoned, whether this threat is real or imagined, this can cause them to spiral into self-destructive patterns.

The emotions that accompany rejection or abandonment can be incredibly painful for individuals with EUPD to process, and the resultant behaviours may explode outwards in the form of lashing out at others or sabotaging interpersonal relationships. Individuals may also internalise rejection as confirmation of their essential ‘badness’, or ‘worthlessness’, and this may manifest as feelings of deep self-loathing, disassociation from the self, or even self-harm and suicide. Between 3% and 10% of people diagnosed with EUPD take their own lives, a figure that is 50 times higher than the suicide rate in the general population.

Relationship difficulties

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Another common feature of EUPD is unstable and tumultuous personal relationships. There may be intense and abrupt changes in how they perceive and relate to those closest to them. A person with EUPD may have unrealistic perceptions of others, lurching between seeing someone as an idealised version of themselves who can do no wrong, to an enemy who is vindictive and cruel. The emotional inner life of individuals with EUPD is very complex and intense, which means that they can find it difficult to understand other people’s perspectives. This can be unpredictable and difficult to deal with and consequentially makes it very difficult for people with EUPD to sustain long-term, healthy interpersonal relationships. Their personal lives may be characterised by patterns of instability and volatility.

Relationship to self

In the same way that individuals with EUPD may struggle to relate to others, they can equally have difficulty relating to their own sense of self. They may behave impulsively, suddenly shifting their identity, career, outlook or plans. They may be self-destructive or reckless and engage risky behaviour, such as substance abuse, gambling or self-harm.

Emotional regulation

Individuals with EUPD are highly sensitive, and can experience intense emotional shifts, which may be triggered by relatively small stimuli. Analogously, if a person had experienced a serious injury to their leg, it would only take the slightest of impacts for the wound to be re-opened, and for the intense pain to return. Similarly with EUPD, what may seem a minor incident to others, can result in an all-consuming and apparently disproportionate emotional response. In particular, individuals with EUPD may have difficulty managing conflict in relationships and regulating their anger. They may have outbursts which escalate out of control. They may find it difficult to calm down and self-soothe, and their anger may eventually collapse inwards into feelings of shame and guilt, which intensifies their negative self-view.


Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

EUPD is often characterised by chronic feelings of emptiness. This may manifest as a feeling of numbness and an unsettling sense of disconnection, both with others and with the self. In these periods of emptiness, people with EUPD may appear restless and seek external distraction. In times of extreme emotional distress, this sense of disconnection may deepen into a state of de-personalisation or de-realization. This is a temporary state of extreme dissociation, where the individual detaches from reality completely. The individual may feel as though they are not a real person or that they don’t exist at all.


Photo by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash

In addition to the specific challenges of EUPD, the diagnosis has a high rate of comorbidity, which means that individuals with EUPD often live simultaneously with other mental health issues. The most common comorbid diagnoses with EUPD are depression, anxiety and substance abuse. This adds a separate and distinct layer of challenge for the individual, which could further impact their ability to manage the challenges of their diagnosis.

EUPD in court proceedings

Living with emotionally unstable personality disorder can be intense and challenging at the best of times. These difficulties are only heightened in the court environment, which can be relentless, stressful, and highly emotional. Without adequate support, there may be a significant negative impact upon individuals with EUPD who have to attend court. The experience may have destructive consequences for their emotional wellbeing, and their ability to fairly participate in the court process may be impacted as a result.

Emotional management

Intermediaries can offer a level of assistance and support to individuals with EUPD which may improve their experience of court and increase their ability to participate. Intermediaries are not advocates, support workers or mental health professionals, and we are employed solely to assist the understanding and participation of the individual. However, there are circumstances in which intermediary assistance can positively affect emotional management. For example, if an individual is becoming distressed in court proceedings because they are struggling to understand what is happening, the support of an intermediary to understand what is being discussed may prevent them from becoming emotionally dysregulated.

Clear, consistent communication

When working with service users with EUPD, it is crucial that good communication is modelled by professionals. The most effective communicators will present information in an accessible way, with patience, dedication, and transparency as central principles. Anything less than this may leave the service user feeling left in the dark and confused. For individuals with complex emotional needs, clear and consistent communication is especially important. For example, language may be routinely used in court with which the service user is unfamiliar, or time constraints may mean that there is not an adequate chance within each hearing to process information. The service user may not be informed about the purpose of a specific hearing, or they may not have any concept of what to expect from the court day. For individuals with complex emotional needs, situations like these may leave them feeling left behind, unimportant or disregarded. This could be triggering for the individual and may cause them to spiral into an adverse emotional response.

The intermediary role, as a dedicated communication specialist who is ultimately impartial, can help to mitigate some of the risk of a negative experience for a service user with EUPD. In court, the intermediary will endeavour to make sure that the service user is fully informed about what is being discussed at all stages of proceedings, by using simplified explanations and visual aids. The intermediary can also create a court timetable, to manage expectations about what is happening within the court day. The intermediary can ensure that the service user has a clear sense of the purpose of each hearing, and that they feel included in the conversations which concern them. An intermediary’s presence can help to bridge the gap between the complex legal discussions that take place at court, and the unique emotional needs of a service user with EUPD.

Rapport building

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Intermediaries are adept at building rapport, and this is central to a constructive working relationship with any service user, but particularly one who has a diagnosis of EUPD. Working closely with someone with this diagnosis can be an unpredictable experience, and the difficulties that individuals with EUPD have with emotional regulation will only be exacerbated in an emotional court environment. When rapport is established, this is a foundation of trust from which effective strategies can be implemented, and support offered in moments of dysregulation. For example, the intermediary can assist the service user by implementing grounding exercises, such as deep breathing. They could also offer the use of anxiety aids, such as fiddle objects, to assist the service user to remain calm. The intermediary can offer a level of emotional support to the service user if things reach a crisis point.


It is important, however, for clear emotional boundaries to be in place at all times. The balance needs to be appropriate, and the impartial role of the intermediary uncompromised. The intermediary must not be inflexible, if they are too rigid and stringent with their emotional energy, they may appear defensive or cold. Conversely, if the intermediary does not establish healthy personal limits, they may find themselves taking on the emotions of others, which may interfere with their ability to provide appropriate support.


If an intermediary is able to build a strong rapport and working relationship with a service user who has EUPD, they may be able to anticipate the triggers which cause negative reactions and prevent them from occurring before things spiral out of control. The service user may function better at a particular time of day, or in a particular setting. The intermediary can make recommendations to the court based on this, for example, suggesting that hearings take place in the afternoon, or suggesting the service user attends from a familiar environment, such as their solicitor’s office. The service user may find it harder to regulate their emotions if they are fatigued, uncomfortable or hungry. Although this may sound relatively simple, these factors can have significant consequences and are easily avoided. The intermediary can monitor the service user’s wellbeing and alert the court to take breaks as needed. The service user may be triggered by coming into contact with specific individuals, and special measures, such as screens, can be used to prevent individuals from encountering other parties in proceedings.

Giving evidence

Often individuals with EUPD will find it difficult to remain calm when they feel they are being ‘attacked’. Whilst court is undeniably a tense environment, and giving evidence is doubtless a stressful experience, the intermediary can make recommendations to help make this process less fraught. For example, when giving evidence, it may assist the service user if they are asked questions in a neutral tone, as they may respond poorly to an adversarial approach. The service user may be more likely to give their best evidence if questions are pooled, and asked by one advocate, as this limits the number of people the service user will have to interact with and may remove an element of anxiety about the process. The service user may be assisted by frequent breaks whilst giving evidence, to manage the increased pressure on their communication skills, and the likelihood that they may become dysregulated if they have to confront difficult and distressing topics during questioning.

EUPD is a complex condition which is extremely challenging for those it impacts. The emotional turmoil that individuals with this diagnosis may experience can be a significant barrier to their understanding and participation in court. There is no simple remedy for the challenges that this diagnosis poses, but the assistance of an intermediary can offer dedicated support and strategies to assist individuals with EUPD throughout proceedings.

Communicourt resources

Learn more about mental health and communication difficulties on The Access Brief, a growing library of downloadable resources for legal professionals, developed by intermediaires. The collection includes guides to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, creating visual aids to support clients with communication needs, writing easy read documents and more!

To learn more about ‘Hidden Disabilities’ like EUPD, tune into series 2 of our Accessing Justice Podcast. In this series, we talk to experts about conditions which affect communication, but may be overlooked at court, from stammering and trauma, to ADHD.

Logo of the Accessing Justice podcast (text with an icon of the scales of justice)

“Why didn’t your legal career pan out?”- understanding the role of an intermediary

We asked our intermediaries to tell us about the most common challenges they face in their roles. Shannon discusses how there is a lack of awareness about her role, and why she is so passionate about helping people to understand.

When I tell people I am an intermediary, I am often met with a blank stare. When I tell them I mainly work in the criminal and family courts, they assume that I am involved in mediating cases or I am a failed barrister.

Our role in the long history of the courts is relatively new. As a form of special measure for defendants in criminal court cases and respondents in family court cases, intermediaries only came into practice in 2007. We work with people who have communication difficulties to help them understand proceedings and give their best quality evidence.

Before I joined Communicourt, I didn’t know what an intermediary was. I have also found people working in the courts are not always fully aware of what we do either. But I see the difference we make every day, and that is why I am so keen to shout about our work.

Here are some of the common questions I get asked:

“Is an intermediary like a support worker?”

No, we are there to facilitate effective communication between the court and the vulnerable person we are supporting. Even though intermediaries are trained to handle emotional dysregulation, our role is to measure how this effects someone’s ability to give evidence or understand proceedings in court.

I tell the court how I can monitor this throughout proceedings, then arrangements and update the court accordingly.  For example, I might use anxiety scales to help a vulnerable person to rate how they are feeling from 1 to 10. Anything past 7, then I will ask for an emergency break so they can take some time and compose themselves.

If someone needs emotional support outside of proceedings, then arrangements for a support worker can be made.

“Where did you study law?”

‘Where did you study law?’ and ‘How come your legal career didn’t pan out?’ are just examples of questions I have been asked.

There is an assumption that because intermediaries are aware of court proceedings and court terminology, then we must have legal training. This is not the case, we are not legal professionals, we are communication specialists.

Intermediaries are specialised communication specialists who usually have a background in either speech and language therapy or psychology. We all go through specialised intermediary training, which teaches us the basics of the law and the criminal justice system.

“Can you tell me if my client has capacity or not?”

During my first hearing as an intermediary, I was asked if I believed someone lacked capacity to take part. They approached me as they knew I had a background in psychology, so assumed I was trained to know whether someone had capacity or not.

This is not true. We are communication specialists and, even though we have a background in that field, we are not experts in regard to capacity and are not ‘wearing that hat’ when we are working as an intermediary.

When we assess people, we solely focus on the specific communication difficulties they may have, and how this difficulty could be facilitated in court. Although we do discuss any learning disabilities/difficulties and mental health issues they may have, this is only to explore how their conditions effect their communication and what techniques could assist them. I do not explore in my assessment whether someone is unable to participate in court, but rather make recommendations which will help them. 

Why is it important to understand the intermediary role?

It is crucial for anyone working in the justice system to be aware of the practice and purpose of an intermediary, in order to access this service when working with a vulnerable person.

Criminal and family court rooms can be overwhelming, stressful and confusing for people with communication difficulties. We are there to facilitate best communication between the court and the defendant, and to make sure the defendant understands everything that is going on.

The vulnerable person is guided by their legal professionals during their time in court, so it is important that these professionals are giving them information about our role and how we can support them through their legal proceedings.

Our role is growing within the courts, intermediary provision is being reviewed as part of the government’s new National Disability Strategy. Improving access to justice, courts and legal support are key issues in the Strategy and this will help to develop a better understanding of what we do.

My time as an intermediary as given me an insight into how many vulnerable people find themselves in court proceedings. I enjoy implementing strategies which help people to understand and follow proceedings more thoroughly. I have had many great experiences where a vulnerable person has expressed their gratitude for my attendance.

All vulnerable people should have the opportunity to participate in the court process fairly, and in a way they can best understand. That is why intermediaries, and our roles, are so important.