The victims’ commissioner has published a report based on findings from a research project in to the provision of Registered Intermediaries to vulnerable witnesses through the Witness Intermediary Scheme.
Intermediaries are specialists in communication, provided to vulnerable witnesses including children, to help them give evidence in criminal proceedings. There is widespread support for intermediaries amongst police and prosecutors as they rely on them in order to achieve best quality evidence.
Despite requests for intermediaries increasing, there has been no increase in the number recruited. There is inconsistency in the number of intermediaries used in different parts of the country, resulting in some young witnesses being disadvantaged by virtue of where they live. There is a four week wait for an intermediary following a request by the police, which the National Crime Agency puts down to a lack of registered intermediaries.
The commissioner calls for an urgent reform of the scheme so that all vulnerable witnesses can get the communication assistance they need.
This report highlights urgent need for child witnesses to have support from intermediaries. Youth justice lawyers should be aware that child defendants’ right to a fair trial is at risk if they do not have the same assistance at trial.