Working as a Court Appointed Intermediary

Laura Kington

There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ day in the life of an intermediary. Our roles vary hugely from day to day, working with vulnerable people with a variety of communication issues, and in numerous settings.

We work across youth, criminal and family courts, mainly with defendants and respondents, but we occasionally work with child witnesses and in civil law cases. We also assist in conferences between vulnerable people and their legal team to prepare for a court case.

The first thing you learn as an intermediary, is you have to be flexible. Our daily schedules can change drastically up to 5pm the night before, and even sometimes on the day. This is due to the frequent changing of court listings, but also due to the nature of the vulnerable people we support. For instance, difficulties in understanding or anxiety may mean people avoid attending appointments, or they cancel at the last minute.

“Being an intermediary is a challenging role, but it is incredible to know
the difference you are making to someone’s life”

My average day could involve working on an assessment or working in court. If I have an assessment planned, my ‘day’ will start the night before as I check my calendar to make sure the plans have not changed for the next morning.

Today, it is an early start as I travel by train to meet the vulnerable person, this will usually be in their solicitor’s office. I use the journey time to re-read any previous reports and finalise my prep for the assessment.

When I arrive, the person I need to see is already there. Simon* is a 23 year old man who is facing charges of theft. He struggles with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. He was assessed by a psychologist who found that he also has a low IQ, putting him within the range of a mild learning disability. My assessment will need to determine how these diagnoses affect his communicative abilities, and how we can support him in court during his trial.

An assessment can take between one and three hours, depending on what support the person needs. During an assessment, I will first gain some further insight into the vulnerable person’s background. This is helpful to open up discussion regarding what support Simon may receive at home, or if he received support at school. This is also helpful in determining Simon’s insight into his own abilities. I will then move on to the assessment tasks, these look at the different skills and abilities involved in communication and are made as relevant as possible to the court environment. These include working memory, receptive and expressive abilities, attention skills and understanding time, number and sequencing concepts.

Assessment over, I head back to the train station and use my journey time home to start writing my report. When I arrive home, I quickly eat some dinner and then continue with my report. We allow seven days to get the reports written, peer reviewed, finalised and sent to the instructing solicitor.

After drafting my report and sending it to a colleague for a peer review, I check my calendar and see I am confirmed on a half day hearing tomorrow. I need to read the case notes of an intermediary who has worked with this vulnerable person before. I work out my travel plan for the next morning and head to bed.

“There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ day in the life of an intermediary.”

The next day it is another early start to get to court by 10am. Sometimes, we have to organise staying in a hotel if the court is far away and an early start. Travelling to court, I use my journey time to prep and read through the case notes again. 

When I arrive at court, I need to find the vulnerable person and their legal representative to introduce myself. Maria* is 42 and has a learning disability, she is appearing in court as she is involved in care proceedings relating to her third child. We have assisted her before in proceedings, so I have a good idea from the reports and case notes of strategies that she is effectively assisted by. We hold a pre-hearing conference to discuss the plan for the day and assist Maria to understand and instruct counsel for the day ahead.

Today is the Final Hearing. This is where the final decision about the care of the child is made. When the court hearing gets underway, it may start with Ground Rules. Here I can outline recommendations to help Maria during the day. This might include things like providing a stress toy to help with anxiety or attention difficulties. I also take my intermediary oath, promising to “make true explanations of all matters” to the vulnerable person.

There are usually plenty of breaks during the court sessions to allow time for me to explain things to Maria, or to allow for rest and recovery. After lunch, the hearing continues, and we start to hear evidence from witnesses. Throughout the evidence, I simplify any complex terminology, take notes of any questions or comments that Maria raises to discuss with her legal team in the next break, and monitor her emotional management and concentration in case there is need to request a break earlier than timetabled. Maria needs to give evidence as well, so I remind counsel of the Ground Rules in relation to phrasing their questions in a way that Maria can understand and respond to reliably. I draw some diagrams and use visual aids to help her understand what is being asked of her, such as a timeline to assist her in answering questions about how events are sequenced.

After the hearing, we go into a post-hearing conference to make sure Maria has understood all the questions asked, and the process so far.

Finally, at 5pm it is time to head for home. Again, on the train I use the time to write case notes and complete any admin tasks. Tomorrow is a writing day, so I can spend that time finishing my reports.

Being an intermediary is a challenging role, but it is incredible to know the difference you are making to someone’s life. It is brilliant to work with legal teams and other professionals who share the collective aim to make these highly stressful and emotional experiences more accessible to the vulnerable people at the centre of them.

*Names have been changed to protect identities