Northern Ireland Registered Intermediary Scheme

Registered Intermediaries (RIs) are communication specialists who assist vulnerable victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants with significant communication deficits to communicate their answers more effectively during police interview and when giving evidence at trial. The RI Schemes currently operate in respect of all cases being heard in all courts.

The Registered Intermediaries Schemes pilot was launched on 13 May 2013. The Schemes were originally piloted in Crown Courts (and associated committal proceedings in magistrates’ courts) in respect of offences that are triable only on indictment (more serious offences).

Following the evaluation of the pilot in November 2014, it was agreed that a further phase of the pilot, which would be extended to all cases being heard in the Crown Court, would be undertaken from 1 April 2015 for 12 months. After this time, the pilot will be re-evaluated to inform key decisions in relation to the future direction of the RI Schemes.

Intermediaries are communication specialists, such as speech and language therapists and social workers, who assist vulnerable victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants with significant communication deficits to communicate their answers more effectively during police interview and when giving evidence at trial. The vulnerable person’s communication difficulties could arise due, for example, to a learning disability, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, mental health issue, neurological disorder or a physical disability, or by virtue of their young age.

If an End-user (i.e. a police officer, PPS prosecutor or defence solicitor)identifies that a vulnerable person may have a communication difficulty, they should apply to the Department of Justice’s Intermediaries Schemes Secretariat for a Registered Intermediary. 

Assisting vulnerable persons giving evidence

The Registered Intermediaries (RIs) Schemes assist vulnerable defendants and defence witnesses, as well as victims and prosecution witnesses, with significant communication difficulties.

Pilot schemes to assist vulnerable persons in the criminal justice process commenced in the Crown Court sitting in Belfast on 13 May 2013 for offences that are triable on indictment only. The schemes were extended to all Crown Courts for offences that are triable on indictment only on 11 November 2013.

Following a review of the pilot schemes in November 2014, it was agreed that a further phase of the pilot, which would be extended to all cases being heard in the Crown Court, would be undertaken from 1 April 2015 for 12 months. After this time, the pilot will be re-evaluated to inform key decisions in relation to the future direction of the RI Schemes. The RI Post-project Review can be viewed on the DOJ website.

The relevant provisions relating to the examination of a vulnerable person through an intermediary are Articles 17 and 21BA of the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, as amended by the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. In the case of Article 17, an application for an intermediary may be made where it is considered that their use is likely to improve the quality (completeness, coherence and accuracy) of the evidence given by the witness. For Article 21BA, an application for an intermediary may be made where their use will enable the defendant to participate effectively in the proceedings as a witness giving oral evidence in court and ensure a fair trial.

Who are the registered intermediaries?

RIs are professionals with specialist skills in communication. They come from backgrounds such as speech and language therapy and social work. Nineteen RIs have been recruited by the DOJ to act in this role. In order to do so, they had to pass Northern Ireland Department of Justice Registered Intermediary accreditation training (Masters level). RIs are bound by a Code of Practice and a Code of Ethics, and are subject to a complaints procedure. They are aware of legal professional privilege and will treat what they hear as confidential, not disclosing anything about the defence case or what has been said to them without the defendant’s express consent.

The role of the registered intermediary

The function of the RI is to facilitate communication during the police investigation and at trial between the vulnerable person and others in the criminal justice process.

On identification, by the police, of a vulnerable person whose ability to give evidence is compromised by deficits in their ability to communicate, the RI conducts an assessment of the person’s communication abilities and needs. RIs will be available at short notice in view of PACE timescales. They will not take on cases unless they assess that the vulnerable person needs RI assistance to be able provide evidence. The RI will provide the investigating police officer with a preliminary report (this may be provided orally) to enable planning for the interview. This report will also be provided to the defence solicitor in the case of suspects. The RI will be present in the interview in order to advise and assist with communication; the RI does not ask the questions or interpret the answers given.

The RI role is significantly different from that of the Appropriate Adult (AA); the latter has a role in ensuring general understanding, whereas the RI’s role is a more specialised one and requires expertise in assessing the vulnerable person and advising on communication strategies. In addition, while the AA’s role includes making sure that an individual is treated appropriately, RIs are neutral and do not have a support role. There must always be a third person present when the RI is with the vulnerable person. Where a suspect is being assessed by the RI whilst in police custody, the solicitor would normally be the third party. It would clearly not be appropriate for a police officer to be the third party since the suspect would not be under caution at the time.

Following the investigative stage, the RI will write a report for court about the communication needs of the vulnerable person. In order to do this, the defence solicitor should gather as much information about the defendant’s/defence witness’s communication needs and obtain the necessary consents for the RI to obtain further information, such as reports from schools and doctors. The court report will go the defence solicitor in the case of a defendant or defence witness. The court report advises the Judge and advocates on how best to communicate with the vulnerable person at trial. The report is confidential and is intended only for the parties and the court involved in the case. The report is a free standing document for advice only. It is not evidence in the case and is not given to the jury. The RI is not an expert witness.

Experience has shown that trials work much better if there has been a Ground Rules Hearing in which the trial judge, trial advocates and the RI discuss the court report and its recommendations, and agree the rules on questioning and other matters which concern the vulnerable person’s evidence, e.g. how the RI will intervene and when there should be breaks. The RI assists with communication when the vulnerable person is giving evidence at trial. They do not examine or cross-examine the vulnerable person, and they do not answer on their behalf.

It is important to remember that the RI is an officer of the court and, therefore, is not acting for either the defence or prosecution. They are impartial, neutral, objective and transparent in all that they do. In view of this, the RI can assist any vulnerable person, regardless of whether they are a defendant, defence witness, prosecution witness or victim. However, an RI would not assist both the defendant and prosecution witness in the same case.

Information for defence solicitors

It is not part of the RI’s function to assist the defendant to follow a trial. This role may be fulfilled, as necessary, by another person, such as a carer, social worker or a voluntary sector organisation (such as a MindWise Linked-In officer). However, the RI may make a recommendation in their court report that the vulnerable defendant may benefit from a suitable person being appointed to assist them to follow the trial.

The solicitor acting for the defendant will be responsible for making an application to the court for the examination of the defendant or defence witness through an intermediary at trial (see the Crown Court (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2013). He must also submit a Request for Service form to the DOJ who will select an RI with the appropriate skills and abilities to assess and assist the vulnerable person.

 Further information and forms can be viewed at the links below

For further information on RIs, please contact the Intermediaries Schemes Secretariat on (028) 9052 0554 or via email

 

Related articles

Back to top