Intermediary course launched to help vulnerable sexual victims testify

Vulnerable victims of sexual assault and abuse should receive trained assistance when testifying.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said new intermediaries would help victims when interacting with the justice system and giving evidence in open court.

But the system could be open to challenge, if the defense attorney sees evidence that witnesses are being guided or dragged into their testimony.

Ms McEntee has launched a new professional qualification program for court intermediaries at the University of Limerick.

She said it would provide professionals to help the administration of justice, usually with training in speech therapy or the equivalent.

They would have the skills and expertise to help witnesses with communication difficulties testify, she said.

She said it was “an important step” in carrying out a plan to implement the O’Malley review into rape cases and related processes, following the Belfast rape trial.

This was a central recommendation in ‘Supporting a Victim’s Journey’, the name of the plan to provide more support.

The one-year diploma course will see graduates placed on a panel to work within the Irish justice system.

Registered intermediaries will assist in the process of communication between lawyers and witnesses during the trial, and even earlier, during interviews with Garda.

Minister McEntee said: “My plan is to create a more victim-focused criminal justice system, with reforms to protect victims of sexual violence.

“Duly qualified intermediaries should be recruited and registered for deployment during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.”

They would have a vital role in assessing the communication needs of vulnerable witnesses and in advising An Garda Síochána, lawyers and the court on the steps needed to help these witnesses give “their best testimony”, the minister said. McEntee.

Places for the 2022/2023 academic year will be funded by the Department of Justice, meaning successful applicants will not have to pay a fee to complete the program.

Entry requirements include a minimum of a second class honors degree and three full years of practical experience as a speech therapist, occupational therapist or social worker.

Applications will be accepted until July 1st. More details on the UL website.

Denise W. Whigham