Language and the Law
Communication difficulties impact all aspects of life. Besides affecting decisions relating to education, work and social relations, communication difficulties also impact the ability to make informed legal choices.
However currently there is no legislation relating to special measures for vulnerable defendants and suspects. As a result, many go through the justice system not understanding the process, what is being said or the impact of the court proceedings. Vulnerable witnesses are provided for by the Ministry of Justice’s Witness Intermediary Scheme which offers Registered Intermediaries to assist at investigation and trial. There is no similar national scheme for suspects and defendants and therefore there is disparity in terms of access to the legal process between these vulnerable groups.
Section 104 of the Coroners and Justice Act does allow for examination of a vulnerable defendant by an intermediary however this has not been implemented as yet. Appreciating this disparity between vulnerable defendants and vulnerable witnesses, some judges however have allowed for defendants to be examined using an intermediary e.g. R v Sevenoaks Youth court  EWHC where the judge ruled that, “steps are necessary to ensure that the defendant has a fair trial, not just during the proceedings, but beforehand”.