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Identifying Vulnerability

Vulnerable witnesses are defined in Section 16 of the Youth justice and Criminal Evidence Act (1999) and amended by the Coroners and Justice Act (2009) as those:

  1. Who are under 18

  2. Whose quality of evidence is diminished because of:

  • A mental disorder (as defined by the Mental Health Act 1983)

  • A significant impairment of intelligence of social functioning

  • A physical disability or disorder


There is no legal definition for vulnerable suspects and defendants. However in logical and practical terms, vulnerability exists irrespective of whether an individual is a suspect, defendant, respondent or a witness. Many vulnerable people experience significant difficulties in understanding, communicating and interacting with others.


As we know, communication difficulties are not always visible and therefore many communication difficulties remain unacknowledged. Communication is more than simply speaking and consequently difficulties understanding spoken language and interacting with others appropriately are missed. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does my client have difficulty narrating his/her account in a logical manner?

  2. Does my client have difficulty living independently and taking care of their basic needs e.g. money, holding down a job?

  3. Does my client have difficulty reading and writing?

  4. Did my client go to a special school?

  5. If s/he went to a mainstream school, did my client receive extra help from school staff?

  6. Does my client have a diagnosis that is relevant to communication e.g. Autism, ADHD, Language Disorder?

If the answer to any of the above is 'yes', consider asking for an intermediary assessment

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