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The use of intermediaries during criminal trials is becoming increasingly commonplace. An intermediary may be used to assist any witness, including a defendant, give evidence.

intermediary vulnerable witness

The functions of an intermediary

“Intermediaries are communication specialists (not supporters or expert witnesses) whose role is to facilitate communication between the witness and the court, including the advocates. Intermediaries are independent of the parties and owe their duty to the court.”

Directing the Jury

At the trial, before the witness or defendant gives evidence, the judge should explain to the jury the following:

  • The need for an intermediary: e.g. by identifying the problems arising from the age or other difficulties of the defendant or witness.
  • The purpose of an intermediary: which is to assist in communication, among other things by helping advocates to ask questions in a way the defendant or witness can understand and/or assisting the defendant or witness to communicate his/her answers to the jury.
  • The intermediary is independent of the parties, is present only to assist communication and is not a witness and so is not permitted to give evidence.
  • The use of the intermediary must not affect the jury’s assessment of the evidence of the defendant or witness and is no reflection on the defendant or witness.
  • If the defendant elects to give evidence, it may be appropriate at this point to give more detail of any difficulties the defendant has, if those difficulties may affect the perception of the jury of the defendant’s evidence.

Assisting a Defendant

The current provisions concerning intermediaries are very much stacked in favour of assistance for prosecution witnesses, but case law makes it very clear that defendants are entitled to equal treatment.

Recent case law (e.g. Dean Thomas [2020] EWCA Crim 117) has placed further hurdles in the way of defendants seeking assistance, but we will always ensure that the legal rights of those we represent are fully protected.  Appropriate applications for an intermediary will be made where necessary.

Giving evidence is daunting for most people, but particularly so for defendants facing the considerable pressure of being accused of an offence that they deny.

You can be assured that we will always act to enable you to present the best evidence possible.

Advocates and litigators experienced in dealing with intermediaries and vulnerable witnesses

Our Higher Court Advocates Andrew Wesley, William Bennett and Denney Lau have all undertaken specialist advocacy and vulnerable witness training.

This involved learning the particular skill of planning questioning suitable to the characteristics of a witness or defendant, taking into account intermediary reports and suggestions.  It is potentially a difficult task to elicit correct facts from vulnerable witnesses where the ability to question is limited.

advocate's gateway vulnerable witness intermediaryOur advocates will regularly use the Advocates’ Gateway Toolkit that provides assistance in identifying when a witness or defendant may be vulnerable, as well as helping in the formulation of questions for those who may have, for example, autism or a learning difficulty, or be vulnerable due to their youth.

Our litigators are experienced in identifying clients or their witnesses who may be vulnerable and benefit from the assistance of an intermediary.

Ask for our specialist advice

We provide nationwide advice and representation in criminal matters from our offices across the East Midlands.  You can find your nearest office here have offices across the East Midlands and will happily travel across the country to provide representation for all football related offences.

VHS Fletchers solicitors offices
VHS Fletchers offices across the East Midlands

Alternatively you can contact us using the form below.


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Solicitor Nick Wright recently attended a Derbyshire Court User Group meeting where changes to remand courts in Derbyshire were presented as a fait accompli.

Lack of legal advisers

HMCTS has lost legal advisers locally.  As a result there are insufficient legal advisers to run occasional courts for Saturdays and bank holidays in both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.  As a result from 9 October all remand cases heard on those days will now be dealt with at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court.

The intention is that there be two courts sitting, one for Nottinghamshire cases and one for Derby cases.  HMCTS is still considering whether a third court can be held on bank holidays.

Enquiries were made as to whether other local legal advisers were in a position to step in.  Unfortunately the answer is ‘no’.  The contracts for legal advisers have recently been changed and the raise in basic salary funded by a cut in overtime rates.  Unsurprisingly, there is a lack of volunteers.  No doubt morale will be as low in the Court Service as elsewhere in the justice system.

Although we were told that the courts are committed to filling the staffing gap, and there are currently six trainees in the region, it has been noted that there are no legal adviser position advertised locally on the relevant website.

Problems for Derbyshire defendants

The new arrangements simply ignore the geography involved in order to suit the needs of the court caused by a failure to recruit.

The most northerly firm clients to fall within the Derbyshire ‘catchment’ may be as far away as Glossop.  Glossop to Nottingham is a round trip of 140 miles, over three hours by car.

How will those granted bail or sentenced on a Saturday return home, leaving Nottingham late on a Saturday afternoon?  Who will fund the journey home when many defendants are dependent upon benefits?

It also ignores the reality that family assistance and input is often crucial to permit bail applications to be made.  Addresses and background information are provided by family and friends attending court in person to speak to the solicitor.  Again, these arrangements are likely to render this support far more difficult or impossible, to the detriment of our clients.

Problems for lawyers

Another reality is that the effect of the change is that Derbyshire lawyers will not be able to represent their clients in a cost effective manner.  As a result, the likelihood is that their clients will lose continuity of representation and the benefits that go with that.

Aside from the time involved in travel and the uncertainties relating to the granting of legal aid for those detained, Even if legal aid were granted the Legal Aid Agency has reminded practitioners that Nottingham is a ‘designated’ court.  As a result, no time can be claimed by lawyers travelling to the court.  The journey from Glossop or Chesterfield or Buxton or Derby will not attract any payment.

In terms of the organisation of work within these firms, managers will be faced with an uphill struggle to persuade advocates to attend Nottingham on Saturday mornings for what will inevitably be longer days.

Hunt the client

Unhelpfully, Derbyshire defendants could be found in any number of places on a Saturday morning.   A maximum of 10 clients will be taken from Derbyshire to the Nottingham cells on a Saturday.  The expectation is that rather than be told where a client is, solicitors need to phone the Nottingham cells on a Saturday morning.  If the client isn’t in the cells then it would seem likely they are still at a police station.

Defendants over the magic number of 10 are to be dealt with by CVP from either St Mary’s Wharf police station in Derby or Ripley police station.

CVP can be requested in advance, adding another layer of bureaucracy to Saturday morning courts.  Practitioners are unlikely to know whether the application is granted until the Saturday morning.  Blanket approval cannot be given.

There are limited phone lines that can be used to speak with those kept at the police station and it is hard to see how, 16 months into the pandemic, it is still though appropriate to make a decision on bail and therefore liberty with instructions taken over the phone.

And what of probation?

Unsurprisingly, Derbyshire probation officers will not be expected to serve the Saturday courts in Nottingham, further prejudicing clients.

Defence subsiding the justice system again

It can be seen that once again the defendants and the defence lawyers are meant to absorb the costs of a collapsing justice system.  Where are local courts left were the six trainees not to remain but seek better working conditions in another sector post qualification?  What if more qualified advisers leave?

There appears to be no credible plan, and the number of courts are simply reduced and reduced at the expense of clients, their families, their representatives and local justice.

This may present an opportunity for practitioners to say ‘no more’ and refuse to provide representation in these courts.  It is easy to see how court service failures could be used to justify the closures of courts such as Mansfield and Chesterfield which could easily go the way of Newark or Ilkeston Magistrates’.

Only time will tell!

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A vast number of cases are awaiting a criminal trial that will rely, to a greater or lesser extent, on the admissibility of communications made via the supposedly highly encrypted Encrochat service.

The Court of Appeal has now issued a ruling following preliminary rulings at Liverpool Crown Court. Whilst this ruling does not mean that guilty pleas are inevitable, for some defendants it will nonetheless present a significant hurdle for them to surmount.

The main question was whether the communications were intercepted at the time they were being transmitted or, as the judge found, were recovered (intercepted) from storage. If the judge was right, subject to a number of subsidiary arguments, the evidence would be admissible.

The EncroChat material was obtained by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of French and Dutch investigators and prosecutors by interfering in the EncroChat communications system. It was then supplied to the United Kingdom authorities where it was used in a large number of investigations, including the one which led to the present case. The judge was required to hear evidence about how this occurred, and then to make findings of fact. He then had to apply the United Kingdom domestic law governing the admissibility of such material, which is found in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (“the 2016 Act”).

The 2016 Act adopted a domestic law framework which is unique in Europe and which resembles previous regimes. Historically, intercept material (classically phone tapping, but not limited to that) could be lawfully obtained by the authorities. Subject to a number of immaterial exceptions, it could not be used in evidence in proceedings but was reserved for intelligence use. The policy justification for that approach has been debated on many occasions and centres around protecting sensitive capabilities and wider operational and practical concerns. All were discussed in Intercept as Evidence, December 2014 Cmnd 8989 which was the report of a review of Privy Councillors provided to Ministers. In many other jurisdictions, including France and the Netherlands, there is no blanket prohibition on the admission into evidence of intercept material. The 2016 Act superseded the law found in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which itself replaced the Interception of Communications Act 1985. Major changes between the current regime and the one established in the 2000 Act concern the new regulatory and supervisory system established by the 2016 Act. The law relating to admissibility of intercept material, and the definition of what is and is not intercept material also changed in important ways.

The essential point before the Court of Appeal was the submission, rejected by the judge, that the EncroChat material is intercept material and inadmissible in criminal proceedings because of section 56 of the 2016 Act, and further that it was unlawfully obtained under a Targeted Equipment Interference warrant, when its obtaining should have been identified as a kind of interception which would require a Targeted Interception warrant. Targeted Equipment Interference warrants are governed by Part 5 of the 2016 Act and may produce material which can be used in evidence. Targeted Interception warrants are governed by Part 2 of the Act and the product is inadmissible in evidence in almost all criminal proceedings, including these. The judge found that the EncroChat material in this case was obtained under Part 5 warrants. These were approved by Sir Kenneth Parker, a Judicial Commissioner, on 5 March 2020, and Sir Brian Leveson, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, on 26 March 2020, prior to the obtaining of the EncroChat material. The second warrant was needed in order to widen the scope of the first for reasons which are not material to the issues before us. The issue is whether that approach was correct, or whether on a true understanding of the way the data were obtained, and of the 2016 Act, they comprised material obtained unlawfully under the wrong warrant and, in any event, were inadmissible.

The prosecution submitted that:

  1. i) the EncroChat messages were admissible and fell within the exception provided by section 56(1) and schedule 3 paragraph 2 of the Act because the messages were “stored in or by the system” at the time when they were intercepted; and, in any event,
  2. ii) that the material was not obtained as a result of “interception related conduct” because none of the five classes of such conduct (as contained within section 56(2) of the Act) applied to the present case, alternatively it was not conduct carried out in the United Kingdom within the scope of section 4(8) of the Act.

The key question was whether at the relevant time the communications were “being transmitted” or were “stored in or by the telecommunication system.” The judge found the latter to be the case. The EncroChat messages were properly regarded as falling within section 4(4)(b) of the 2016 Act and they had been obtained in accordance with a Targeted Equipment Interference warrant. He decided that for the following reasons:

i) At the relevant time when the messages were made available they were not “being transmitted;” it was clear from the evidence in relation to the data exfiltrated from the receiving device that the data was not made available whilst being transmitted. The incorporation of the nickname for the sender from the data held in the receiver’s device demonstrated that the transmission process of the data had finished. The judge indicated that he had no trouble in concluding that the EncroChat data was not being transmitted at the time that it was taken and was properly to be regarded as “stored in or by the system (whether before or after transmission)” and subject to section 4(4)(b) of the 2016 Act. The judge ruled that he did not consider that the distinction between RAM and Realm as described by the defence experts equated to the distinction between “being transmitted” and being “stored” as set out in the statutory provisions. The defence approach sought to extend the notion of transmission well beyond anything which was contemplated by the 2016 Act.

ii) The Equipment Interference Code of Practice was published pursuant to Schedule 7 of the 2016 Act and was admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings. It addressed the exercise of functions under Part 5 of the 2016 Act and the authorisation of Targeted Equipment Interference warrants and their operation. The judge considered that these provisions from this Code of Practice were consistent with the conclusions that he had already made in relation to this issue.

iii) Having considered the provisions of section 99 of the 2016 Act, which contained the power to make a Targeted Equipment Interference warrant and the scope of such a warrant, the judge decided that the interceptions were carried out in accordance with the warrant that had been obtained. The warrant application accurately described the way in which the implant was to operate and the warrant authorised what was then done. This was a finding of fact set out in paragraphs 161 and 162 of the judge’s ruling. It was a finding of fact to which he was entitled to come, and there is no challenge to it in this appeal.

What did the Court of Appeal rule?

The Court held:

“We agree with the judge. The communication is that which is transmitted. What remains on the device is not what has been transmitted, but a copy of it or what, in older forms of messaging, might be described as a “draft”. That is so however quickly after transmission the obtaining of the copy takes place, or even if the copy is extracted while the original encrypted communication is being transmitted. The fact that what was obtained was an unencrypted message, means that what was on the phone, and what was intercepted, was not the same as what had been transmitted because what had been transmitted was encrypted. It cannot therefore have been “being transmitted” when it was intercepted: it can only have been “being stored”.

That being so, the harvesting was interception but was rendered lawful by the Targeted Equipment Interference warrants issued under section 99 of the Act.”

and that:

“We have concluded that the only substantial question which the judge was required to answer was whether the EncroChat material was stored by or in the telecommunications system when it was intercepted. Like him, we consider that these communications were not being transmitted but stored at that time. That being so, the appeal is dismissed.”

How can we help?

 We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact one of our solicitors on 0115 9599550 or use the contact form below.


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The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 imposes several restrictions.

Over the last week, the police have been keen to enforce compliance, even calling out the MP Stephen Kinnock over social media for visiting his father on his birthday or dying the lake at a Derbyshire beauty spot black.

Given the importance of protecting the NHS, it is likely that the police may take a harder line as the crisis worsens.  There is, however, a genuine concern that the police are imposing their own restrictions on individuals that aren’t present within the legislation.  Alternatively, they are applying an over-zealous interpretation of the law.

Restrictions on movement

During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.

A reasonable excuse includes the need—

  • to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) or for vulnerable persons and supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household, or the household of a vulnerable person, or to obtain money, including from any business listed in Part 3 of Schedule 2.
  • to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;
  • to seek medical assistance, including to access any of the services referred to in paragraph 37 or 38 of Schedule 2;
  • to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006(1), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;
  • to donate blood;
  • to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;
  • to attend a funeral of a member of the person’s household, a close family member, if none of these are attending, a friend;
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;
  • to access critical public services, including— childcare or educational facilities (where these are still available to a child in relation to whom that person is the parent, or has parental responsibility for, or care of the child); social services; services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions; or, services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);
  • in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, and for the purposes of this paragraph, “parent” includes a person who is not a parent of the child, but who has parental responsibility for, or who has care of, the child;
  • in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;
  • to move house where reasonably necessary;
  • to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

The word ‘need’ prefaces the exceptions and this implies an added necessity test.

Requirement to close premises and businesses during the emergency

A person responsible for carrying on a business which is listed in Part 1 of Schedule 2 must—

During the emergency period—

  • close any premises, or part of the premises, in which food or drink are sold for consumption on those premises, and
  • cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises; or
  • if the business sells food or drink for consumption off the premises, cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises during the emergency period.

The provisions in relation to business closure are particularly complex and a number of police interventions have already been made such as to try and stop shops selling Easter eggs.

Please contact us for accurate up to date advice if you are unsure as to your legal obligations.

Restrictions on gatherings

During the emergency period, no person may participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people except—

  • where all the persons in the gathering are members of the same household,
  • where the gathering is essential for work purposes,
  • to attend a funeral,
  • where reasonably necessary— to facilitate a house move; to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006; to provide emergency assistance, or
  • to participate in legal proceedings or fulfil a legal obligation.


Breach of these emergency regulations can result in fixed penalties (of up to £960) and unlimited fines.

Adults must do all they can to ensure that children comply, and failure in that regard can itself result in prosecution.

Other enforcement measures can be taken concerning business premises and failing to comply with restrictions.

If you have received a fixed penalty that you wish to challenge or are being investigated or prosecuted for an alleged breach, our expert team are able to advise.

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While accepting that society cannot slip into lawlessness during difficult times, it must also be accepted that it is incumbent on the police and prosecution to take steps to ensure the safety of suspects and their representatives while in police custody.

It was, after all, a police officer’s decision to detain and individual in the first place rather than take verifiable details and arrange an interview at a later date. Again, we accept that there will be circumstances where an arrest and detention will be unavoidable.

Partner and duty solicitor Jon Hullis attended upon a client at the Bridewell police station.  Although we had  earlier published emails that flowed from our attendance at the police station we have been asked to remove them so have done so.

In summary, observations were made:

  • Jon’s experience was that literally no measures were being taken at the Bridewell to distance people.  Officers had to be asked to keep a safe distance.
  • He was not offered any PPE, although to use it would have been pointless as nobody else was.
  • No adjustments were being made to normal procedures in deciding whether interviews are actually necessary.  The client to be interviewed in this case was clearly shown on 18 separate sets of CCTV committing shop thefts.  The interview was planned to take 90 minutes.  The police had indicated the client would be charged in any event.
  • In the event Jon’s client, following consultation, chose not to be interviewed.  This seemed unarguable bearing in mind the evidence and the current public health situation.
  • The officer responded by saying that the Crown Prosecution Service insisted on an interview in every case and that position had not changed.  The CPS ‘would have a go at them’ if an interview did not take place.
  • Jon made the personal observation that he had carefully followed Public Health England guidance and therefore this was the first time he had left his house in three days.  As a result at this attempt at a pointless interview, he has now risked exposing his family to the virus.
  • This scenario is being repeated numerous times every day across the two Nottinghamshire custody suites.

A request was made that urgent advice be given from the CPS as to the necessity of recorded interviews in many cases, so that as many people as possible can be protected from wholly unnecessary risks.

We intend to provide advice and representation to all suspects who seek it.  There are many benefits to representation in police interview.

Read more here.


Now more than ever it might be that our early input into a case can secure your early release, either to return for interview on a future date or for no action to be taken.

However, we can only permit our staff to attend at police stations when it is safe to do so.  The police and prosecution can take simple steps to try and ensure safety.  We await confirmation of whether those steps are to be taken.



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