Supporting vulnerable witnesses in the Family Court


28th January 2020

The prospect of giving evidence in Court proceedings is often daunting.  We do our best to reassure and support our clients so that they are able to give evidence to the best of their ability.

However, in certain circumstances we can also apply for additional support for any vulnerable clients who are giving evidence in the Family Court, by making an application within proceedings for an assessment to be carried out by an intermediary. The intermediary is appointed to ensure that a vulnerable party fully understands the process and is able to respond to questions accurately when giving any evidence.

How can we support vulnerable witnesses in the Family Court?

The categorisation of who may be a ‘vulnerable’ witness is not specifically defined, but can include those with a learning difficulty, a person suffering from mental ill-health or a person with a physical disability which impacts on their ability to communicate effectively.

If appointed, an intermediary will provide a detailed assessment for the Family Court regarding the difficulties likely to be experienced by the individual in participating within the proceedings. This will take into account other expert reports, such as a medical assessment.  The report will make recommendations for special measures to be used during hearings and also advise how the Judge and legal teams should communicate with the individual to ensure that the person is able to give the best evidence to the Family Court.

There is currently no statutory requirement for HM Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to fund an intermediary assessment in family proceedings.  However, if an assessment is necessary as being the only way to ensure a witness will be able to properly participate in proceedings or give evidence, a Judge can order that funding for the intermediary should be provided.  HMCTS may then provide the funding if there is no other available source of funding.  It is also possible for parties to privately fund the assessment, although in our experience the preferred approach by reputable intermediary services is for the cost to be shared between the parties.

If you would like further information about support for vulnerable witnesses in the Family Court, or you are an applicant or respondent in proceedings and may need support, please contact a member of the Family team.

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