Intermediaries are skilled communication specialists who assist vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence. Their role is to help communication with the witness and to assist the witness to give evidence to police and in court. Intermediaries are neutral and are officers of the court.
The general function of an intermediary is to:
- assess the witness's communication style and specific communication assistance required
- describe the communication needs of the witness to the investigating police officer, legal practitioners and judicial officers to enable the individual to participate in the court process. This will include providing recommendations on how to best communicate with the witness, explaining concepts that the individual has difficulty understanding and/or making recommendations to the person questioning the witness and the Judicial Officer on how to pose a question to get the most reliable evidence
- facilitate communication between the individual and other parties to prevent or overcome a communication breakdown
- write court reports on the individual's communication needs and provide practical strategies for managing these needs.
The Victorian Government's intermediaries pilot program will start 1 July 2018.
About the program
The program aims to:
- increase access to justice for vulnerable witnesses
- produce the best quality evidence
- decrease the trauma experienced by vulnerable people giving evidence.
In 2016, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) released the report The Role of Victims of Crime in the Criminal Trial Process(external link), which contained 51 recommendations that aim to minimise trauma to victims caused by the criminal justice system.
One of its recommendations (recommendation 30) was the establishment of a scheme for the appointment of professional intermediaries, modelled on the Witness Intermediary Scheme in England and Wales.
In August 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Criminal Justice report(external link) also recommended the establishment of an intermediary scheme similar to the Registered Intermediary Scheme in England and Wales, available to any witness with a communication difficulty in a child sexual abuse matter.
Eligible witnesses for the intermediary pilot include:
- child complainants and adult complainants with a cognitive impairment in matters of a sexual offence
- child witnesses and adult witnesses with a cognitive impairment in homicide matters.
The Criminal Procedure Act 2009’s definition of "cognitive impairment" includes impairment because of mental illness, intellectual disability, dementia or brain injury.
The Intermediary Team within the department manages the intermediary pilot and matching service.
When a complainant or witness wishes to make a report to police (and that complainant or witness falls within the scope of the pilot) the police will contact the Intermediary Matching Service. Some interviews with police will be booked in, but a lot of interviews will be scheduled at short notice.
The matching service will strive to match the specific needs of the witness to the identified competency of the intermediary.
Intermediary assessment at police interview
When a match has been identified and availability confirmed, the intermediary will attend the Visual and Audio Recorded Evidence (VARE).
The intermediary will undertake an assessment to determine the witness’s communication requirements. The intermediary will then provide the police interviewer with specialist preliminary advice and practical strategies to communicate to elicit complete and accurate evidence from the witness.
Ground Rules Hearing
After any charges are laid and the case reaches the court, the intermediary will undertake a further assessment and produce a report for the court to consider at a Ground Rules Hearing.
Ground Rules Hearings are required in all hearings and trials that involve an intermediary. During a Ground Rules Hearing the judge or magistrate makes directions for the fair treatment and participation of vulnerable witnesses.
The report prepared by an intermediary, which will provide practical strategies and make recommendations about how to best communicate with the witness, will be discussed by the parties.
The judge will determine what the ground rules are and they should be recorded in open court. The intermediary will follow the ground rules.
The intermediary will be present with the witness during the court hearing or trial, to assist with communication.
What is outside the scope of the intermediary’s role?
The intermediary is not a:
- support person
- expert witness
- legal advisor
An intermediary should not:
- express an opinion on the truth or reliability of anything the witness has said/is to present
- enter into discussions
- give advice.
More information on the program is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.