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Intermediaries and cognitive assessments in care proceedings - necessary or not?

By Jaclyn Wright

Published In: Child Care

An intermediary typically refers to a neutral third party who helps facilitate communication or understanding between individuals involved in the legal process. They’re particularly for use if one or more parties has difficulties communicating or understanding because of things like age, disability, translation or language barriers.

Intermediaries play a crucial role in family proceedings including:

  • Promoting access to justice
  • Ensuring fair treatment for all parties
  • Facilitating effective communication in often complex and emotionally charged situations

R v Thomas [2020] EWCA Crim 117 provides guidance which the family court use when considering whether to appoint an intermediary.

Firstly, there must be compelling reasons in order for the court to grant intermediary assistance. A assessment or a full report will aid the decision making in the granting of an intermediary, although this is not determinative.

Lieven J, recently handed down guidance and reminded all in West Northamptonshire Council v KA (Intermediaries)[2024] EWHC 79, that everyone involved must consider how important it is to be aware of the Advocates Gateway. It is only in situations where the approach in the Advocates Gateway is insufficient that an application for assessment will become necessary. The purpose of a assessment is not to take a belt and braces approach, but to try and identify support for a parent proceedings.

This case was an opportunity to remind all of the use and need for intermediaries.

Intermediaries should not be appointed because they are “nice to have” or “just in case”. They must be necessary and will contribute to upholding the court user’s Article 6 Human Rights to a fair trial. The judge must consider not only the individual but the complexity of the evidence which the individual will require support to follow.

If simple adaptations can be made to assist the court user, then an intermediary is not necessary. There are several simple adaptations that can be made in court to prevent the need for an intermediary, especially in cases where communication difficulties or other challenges are anticipated.
Examples such as:

  • Use of plain language when communicating with individuals who may have difficulty understanding complex legal terminology.
  • Simplifying language to make proceedings more accessible to all parties involved.
  • Allowing individuals to have a “support person” present during court proceedings. This could include a family member, friend, or advocate who can provide emotional support and assistance with communication without the need for a formal intermediary.
  • Using technology, such as video conferencing or remote interpretation services. This can help overcome language barriers and facilitate communication with individuals who are unable to attend court in person.
  • Providing regular breaks during proceedings can help individuals who may become overwhelmed or fatigued, allowing them to better participate in the process.

By implementing these simple adaptations, courts can help make proceedings more accessible and inclusive. They reduce the need for formal intermediaries while still ensuring that all individuals can fully participate in the legal process.

Family court proceedings can be complex. If you are someone close to you is involved in family court proceedings, we may be able to help. Contact us on 0800 138 0458 or

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Jaclyn has worked in the legal sector for three years.  She is a Solicitor Apprentice in our Child Care team.

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