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ORIGINAL ARTICLE: The emerging role of the Registered Intermediary with the vulnerable witness and offender: facilitating communication with the police and members of the judiciary


  • Brendan M. O’Mahony

    1. Registered Intermediary, and Forensic Psychologist, CJS Psychology, PO Box 325, Diss, Norfolk, IP22 1WT. (E-mail:; Professional doctorate student, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, PO1 2QQ, UK
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Accessible summary

  • • Many people with a learning disability are frightened when they are interviewed by the police.
  • • They are worried that the police will not understand their story and sometimes keep quiet because they do not understand what is happening.
  • • It can also be very worrying for a person with a learning disability if they have to attend court and give evidence.
  • • The law allows for vulnerable witnesses to have access to support from a professional known as an intermediary.
  • • The law does not yet support vulnerable offenders in this way, but It may now be possible to get professional support from an intermediary if you are an offender.
  • • The intermediary might be able to help you communicate with the police and with people at court if you are a witness or an offender.


Being interviewed by the police as a witness or as a suspect can be a frightening experience for many people; these feelings can be multiplied for many people who have a learning disability and who do not understand the legal proceedings. Intermediaries were introduced by the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 as one of the special measures available to help facilitate communication between the police, the courts and the vulnerable witness. Research has shown that this measure has been valuable in assisting the vulnerable witness to testify. This study was an exploratory examination of the recent use of intermediaries with defendants. The defendant does not by law have the right to an intermediary; however the Coroner’s and Justice Bill (2008–09), is attempting to amend this situation. Meanwhile judges are starting to request an intermediary for vulnerable defendants, in the interests of justice. Using a mixed methods approach this study found that intermediaries were very positive about the need for vulnerable defendants to have support. The intermediaries also highlighted that they required additional training and they raised concerns about how their role was viewed by the courts when they were assisting defendants.