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 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…
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.
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.