NDA Independent Advice Paper on the use of intermediaries in the Irish justice system
This paper sets out the National Disability Authority’s advice towards implementing a model of supports for persons with disabilities who have communication difficulties, building on research and practice in other jurisdictions, and also further to discussion with a wide range of stakeholders in the Irish justice system.
A person may experience communication difficulties as a result of disability, age or other factors, which may mean that they encounter barriers to accessing justice. This may manifest in them not giving an accurate account of events in a statement given to An Garda Síochána or in evidence given to a court. Article 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities obliges States Parties to ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural and age-appropriate accommodations. The NDA believes that the establishment of a Registered Intermediaries Scheme is pivotal to the realisation of this important aspect of Article 13.
One of the special measures provided for in the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, and reinforced in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 is that of the provision of intermediaries. This special measure has not been defined in legislation nor policy, nor has it been implemented in a standardised way to date. The NDA’s advice paper defines an intermediary as a professional with skills in communication. Their role would be to facilitate communication during the police investigation and at trial between a person with significant communication difficulties and others in the justice system. A Registered Intermediaries Scheme should be available to witnesses, victims and accused persons who may be in need of support, due to their communication difficulties, to give better evidence, at all stages of the criminal justice system, including in Garda stations and in court settings.
The paper makes a number of recommendations around the creation, development and implementation of a Registered Intermediaries Scheme.