The Criminal Procedure Rules relating to the use of intermediaries have been amended via new legislation that came into force on 5 April. The amendments follow a consultation by the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee last year.

The new rules clarify the situation in respect of intermediaries being appointed to assist defendants as well as witnesses, whenever it is necessary to support the effective participation of a defendant in any part of their trial.

The new rules clarify that intermediaries can be appointed to support a defendant’s effective participation in their trial 'when the defendant gives evidence or at any other time' as well as to support a witness giving evidence (Rule 18.1).

An intermediary for a defendant should be ordered if they are under the age of 18 years or they have a "mental disorder...a significant impairment of intelligence and functioning, or a physical disability or disorder" and the court deems it necessary to ensure the defendant’s effective participation (Rule 18.27).

Commenting on the new rules, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"These new rules are a welcome development, but ensuring sufficient provision of, and funding for, competent people to do the work is now the real issue. Government must provide effective recruitment, training and support of intermediaries, to the same high professional standards as for Registered Intermediaries, which are only available to witnesses. Otherwise there is the risk of double standards."