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, e.g. acknowledging guilt or maintaining innocence.


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. 


Although Section 104 of the Coroners and Justice Act does allow for examination of a vulnerable defendant by an intermediary, it has not been implemented as yet. Appreciating this inconsistency, some judges have allowed for defendants to be examined using an intermediary e.g. R v Sevenoaks Youth court [2009] 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”. 

It is encouraging that Courts are increasingly catering for the communication and interaction needs of other vulnerable people in courts so their access to the Justice System is equitable.