Who are intermediaries

Intermediaries help vulnerable witnesses to understand and be understood. They facilitate communication between witnesses and police, and witnesses and courts.

Intermediaries are engaged to:

  • assess vulnerable witnesses and advise on their specific communication needs
  • provide practical strategies to police, lawyers and judges on how to best communicate with and question vulnerable witness to obtain the best evidence.

They are impartial—they are not a support person for the witness and cannot take anyone’s ‘side’.

Intermediaries are professionals with qualifications in speech pathology, psychology, occupational therapy, or social work who are appointed to a panel and assigned work based on the individual needs of witnesses.

How are intermediaries involved?

Intermediaries are engaged upon request from police officers, lawyers and the court.

Police officers and prosecutors should consider communication difficulties in witnesses for child sexual offence matters and make a request where necessary.

If a parent, guardian or carer of a vulnerable witness believes their dependent has communication difficulties, due to their age or any other reason, they can notify the police officer or prosecuting lawyer handling the matter as soon as possible so an intermediary can be considered.

During a police investigation

During a police investigation, an intermediary will:

  1. conduct a witness assessment
  2. provide recommendations to the police officer on how best to communicate with the witness during the police interview
  3. attend the police interview to ensure the witness understands the questions and their answers are understood.

When a person makes a complaint to police involving a matter of child sexual abuse, the police can request an intermediary for the person if they believe one is required. The person making a complaint is commonly referred to as the ‘complainant’ and becomes a ‘witness’. The QIS does not only apply to complainants; the Scheme applies to all prosecution witnesses with a communication difficulty.  A witness may be involved because something happened to them or because they can give evidence about something that happened to someone else.

Once an intermediary has been appointed, the intermediary conducts an assessment to establish the witness’ communication needs. The intermediary then provides recommendations and practical strategies to the police officer on how to communicate with the witness based on the witness’ communication needs.

The intermediary can attend the police interview to ensure the witness understands the police officer’s questions and the officer understands the witness’ answers. The police interview will be electronically recorded and used as evidence if the matter goes to court.

During a court proceeding

When engaged in a court proceeding, an intermediary:

  • conducts a witness assessment
  • writes a court report with recommendations about how to best communicate with the witness
  • participates in a ‘directions hearing’ where the intermediary’s recommendations are discussed
  • attends court when the witness gives evidence to ensure the witness understands and their evidence is understood.

Once a police investigation is finalised, the matter may proceed to trial, at court.  When the court appoints an intermediary, the intermediary will conduct an assessment of the witness’ communication needs. This assessment allows the intermediary to produce a report for court. The court report includes recommendations and practical strategies for obtaining the best evidence from the witness.

The judge, prosecutor and defence counsel consider the intermediary’s court report during a ‘directions hearing’ at court. The aim of a directions hearing is to establish ‘ground rules’ or directions, to make sure the witness can understand questions asked when giving their evidence and their answers can be understood by the court.

The ground rules, or directions, can include some or all of the recommendations made by the intermediary. They can also include directions about how an intermediary may intervene while the witness is giving evidence. The intermediary will usually sit next to the witness when the witness gives evidence. This is to ensure the court-approved recommendations are followed and there is clear communication between the witness and the court.