On 15 June 2018 the Chief Minister and Attorney-General released the ACT Government Response to the four reports issued by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (‘the Royal Commission’).
One of the Royal Commission’s findings was that vulnerable witnesses, such as children in sexual abuse cases, face extraordinarily significant communication barriers when giving evidence. One of the Royal Commission’s recommendations was that states and territories establish intermediary schemes able to assist vulnerable witnesses’ communication of their evidence.
The ACT Government passed law and allocated funding in its 2019-20 budget to establish an Intermediary Program within the ACT Human Rights Commission.
The ACT’s Intermediary Program commenced in January 2020 and is actively providing intermediaries to assist police and courts’ engagement with vulnerable witnesses in criminal matters.
Intermediaries help witnesses to communicate their best evidence.
Intermediaries are officers of the court who have undertaken rigorous training in order to become accredited. Intermediaries effectively facilitate communication between:
Intermediaries are often drawn from allied health professions including Speech Pathology, Social Work, Psychology and Occupational Therapy. Intermediaries are experienced facilitating communication of witnesses with:
and other types of communication difficulties.
Intermediaries can help the very young children (under four years of age) to communicate their evidence, as well as the very elderly.
The role of the intermediary is to carefully assess the communication needs of the witness and inform police and the court of the best ways to communicate, so the witness can provide their best evidence.
The intermediary does this by conducting a Communication Assessment of the witness’ communication needs at two separate stages of the process:
After undertaking the Communication Assessment and advising the police and court about communication with the witness, the intermediary may remain involved. The intermediary may be present during the police interview and may also be present at the court hearing, so the intermediary can immediately assist if a breakdown in communication occurs.
It is important to note that the witness intermediary is not a support person. (Other people are able to provide support to witnesses – see Victim Support.)
The intermediary is an impartial participant in the process who is focused on helping the effective communication of evidence.
As impartial officers of the court subject to laws governing their conduct, intermediaries are prohibited from discussing the content of the evidence. Intermediaries do not discuss the merits of a witness’ case and intermediaries are not informed of case outcomes, as this information is not relevant to their role.
To ensure role transparency and clarity, intermediaries adhere to a Procedural Guidance Manual. The Procedural Guidance Manual (PDF 2MB) has been developed in conjunction with ACT criminal justice stakeholders and incorporates important intermediary procedure, some of which is informed by established intermediary practices in other Australian jurisdictions such as New South Wales and Victoria.
The manual is an ‘easy reference guide’ for ACT intermediaries regarding key aspects of their role, including professional conduct they must adhere to and processes they must follow.
The manual is updated regularly to ensure currency and reflect practice changes. Feedback regarding manual content is continuously sought from criminal justice stakeholders engaged with the Intermediary Program.
Information for Families (PDF 6MB)
Information (plain English) (PDF 5MB)
Information for Service Providers (PDF 9MB)
Information for Police (PDF 12MB)
Information for Family and Community (PDF 203KB)
Procedural Guidance Manual (PDF 2MB)