How do intermediaries experience their role in facilitating communication for vulnerable defendants?

  • Brendan O'Mahony

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Vulnerable people, such as children and people with learning disabilities may have difficulties with comprehension when asked certain complex questions during interview at the police station or during cross-examination at court. One support measure, available through statute to vulnerable witnesses, but not defendants as yet, is the role of the intermediary. The intermediary was introduced through legislation to facilitate communication with the vulnerable witness but has more recently also been tasked, on occasion by judges, under common law, to facilitate communication with the vulnerable defendant. There has been no previous research on the role of intermediaries undertaking defendant cases and this thesis fills that gap.

In this research, interviews have been conducted with six intermediaries to gain an insight into how they experienced this new role with defendants. The data has been analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Each participant’s insight has been individually analysed and valued in its own right. Additionally, the six interviews were subsequently examined to assess if there were any general emerging themes.

It was found that three themes emerged. Firstly, and most significant, intermediaries appeared to be trying to make sense of their developing identities as professionals in the courtroom and this theme is conceptualised through Social Identity Complexity theory. Secondly, some intermediaries appeared to be minimising the offender’s alleged criminal behaviour and it was found that the theory of Cognitive Dissonance offers an explanation for this behaviour. Finally, attachment and detachment with the offender have been examined, as intermediaries working with defendants have been found to experience a sense of loss when the defendant is convicted and removed to the cells.

Recommendations are made including the requirement for additional training for intermediaries to understand the underlying psychological processes and conflicts they may experience when working with defendant cases. This is a new contribution to knowledge in the literature about intermediaries.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorBecky Milne (Supervisor) & Jane Creaton (Supervisor)

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