It was great to be able to attend the Intermediaries for Justice Conference on the 9th May in City University London. From the very beginning there was a real buzz of excitement in the room. Intermediaries demonstrated throughout the day their commitment and passion for their job despite frequently working in difficult circumstances as well as having a role that is not always appreciated. They are employed by the crown, magistrates and family courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Intermediaries support two way communication between personnel involved in the justice system supporting those previously judged incapable of giving clear and effective evidence to do so.
There was a real buzz from the outset at the conference. At times, it can be quite a lonely role being an intermediary. If you get the role right and put the appropriate communication scaffolds in place, everyone communicates well – then some in the justice system find it hard to recognise that you have done anything at all! Baroness Newlove, the victims commissioner for England and Wales who was one of the key note speakers said ‘You need to see how intermediaries work to believe what they do ‘ Being a skilled communicator and being creative is the bedrock of intermediary practice. Baroness Newlove was clear that there needs to be greater access to registered intermediaries and but also there were clear management and long term support issues that need to be addressed by government.
The theme by various speakers throughout the day was the challenge of communication in the justice system. As one speaker put it ‘Justice is being delivered in a system designed in the 18th century which makes it difficult to fit the needs of the 21st century and ensure all have access to legal process ‘ Another speaker spoke of registered intermediaries levelling the playing field but there is still not equal access as defendants do not have automatic access to the scheme . As well as communication difficulties arising through the child’s age and or the person’s disability the issue of cultural communication was raised particularly in relation to gang culture
The conference loved meeting Oliver – the first dog in Europe trained to be court friendly and whose role is to support children to give evidence . Research in America has shown that stroking pets can help reduce fear and support children in court
Talking Mats is a communication framework that some intermediaries use . One said she could not do the role without Talking Mats and two intermediaries have described their use of them in two previous blogs . Click to read a blog by Nicola Lewis https://www.talkingmats.com/assisting-vulnerable-people-to-communicate/ and one by Catherine O’Neil https://www.talkingmats.com/talking-mats-used-court/ . So Talking Mats was delighted to be asked to the conference to have a stand and run a workshop. It was great to have Aileen O’Hagan with us and she talked through some case examples when she had used Talking Mats in her role as a intermediary. One example involved working with a young person with selective mutism where Aileen used Talking Mats to great effect to help prepare and plan for her witness interview . She created options around the optimum environment for the interview e.g. lightening, seating etc but also options around the mode of giving evidence . The witness wanted to write things down and wanted the intermediary to speak them out loud.
The day left me in no doubt that intermediaries are effective in enabling the voice of those who would not otherwise be heard, be heard. I remain concerned and puzzled as to why Scotland does not have the scheme. We do have appropriate adults but this role does not have the legal standing nor the training and qualification demands of the registered intermediary scheme and in practice the focus of the work is different . I hope this situation will change.
The intermediaries for justice organisation have now established themselves as a charity and if you want to find more about their work then visit http://www.intermediaries-for-justice.org.
If you are an intermediary and have found Talking Mats helpful then we would love to hear form you. We are always up for more guest blogs so please get in touch