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Fair Access to Justice? support for vulnerable defendants in the criminal courts

The current arrangements for special measures to support individuals rendered vulnerable by court proceedings are inequitable. Vulnerable witnesses are, by statute, able to access certain support (special measures), such as an intermediary, whereas vulnerable defendants do not have statutory protection and must rely on the discretion of the individual court and on the common law.

The Advocacy Training Council (2011) recognises that the handling and questioning of vulnerable people in court, in order to achieve best evidence, is a specialist skill; however, there is a lack of clarity concerning the provision and availability of intermediaries for defendants.

While intermediaries appointed to support vulnerable witnesses are registered and subject to a stringent selection, training and accreditation process, and quality assurance, regulation and monitoring procedures, intermediaries for defendants are neither registered nor regulated. The practice of ‘registered’ and ‘non-registered’ intermediaries – potentially in the same trial and paid different fees – is anomalous.

Intermediaries should be introduced into the statutory provision of special measures for vulnerable defendants. These special measures, together with other reasonable adjustments, should be made available, according to personal need, to enhance the capacity of the vulnerable defendant to participate effectively in court proceedings, to assist in their preparation for the trial process and to help ensure fitness to plead. In turn, this will help to ensure access to justice for both the victim and the defendant