Australia’s first intermediary conference to bring together world-leading experts

Australian Greens

A national conference exploring the vital role of intermediaries in supporting vulnerable individuals within the justice system opens tomorrow, spotlighting the Territory’s innovative work in this field. ‘Gathering Momentum’ is an online, invite-only conference that marks another step forward in the ACT’s commitment to fair and equitable legal processes for all vulnerable individuals.

The ACT established an intermediary team four years ago, and in early 2024 became the first Australian jurisdiction to formally recognise and address the unique needs of vulnerable accused individuals. Sponsored by the ACT Human Rights Commission, this conference brings together a host of international experts to discuss ways of ensuring justice is accessible and understandable for everyone.

Experts attending include The Hon Lucy McCallum, Chief Justice of the ACT Supreme Court; Professor Penny Cooper, a world-leading expert who has supported the development of many Australian intermediary schemes; and Dr John Taggart, a socio-legal scholar at Queen’s University, Belfast, who, along with Professor Cooper, assisted with the scoping and development of the ACT Program’s expansion to vulnerable suspects and accused.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the ACT has been a leader in recognising the importance of intermediaries in ensuring fair and equitable access to justice for all.

“This conference reflects our ongoing commitment to supporting vulnerable individuals throughout the legal process and learning from best practices worldwide,” he said.

Presentations and panel discussions will cover a wide range of topics including:

  1. The impact of vulnerability on communication and understanding within legal proceedings
  2. Best practices for intermediaries in building rapport and trust with vulnerable individuals
  3. The role of intermediaries in facilitating effective participation in the legal process
  4. The legal and ethical frameworks surrounding intermediary work
  5. Future directions for intermediary services in Australia

ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates said the conference will facilitate discussions about ensuring “all witnesses, victims and defendants can understand, speak and be heard in the legal process, regardless of ability, age or circumstances”.

“As skilled professionals who bridge the gap between the law and those it serves, intermediaries are crucial to achieving this goal,” she said.

The nature of intermediary work is essential in improving access to justice for marginalised witnesses and accused. In a case study highlighted in the ACT Human Rights Commission’s 2022-23 annual report, the Territory’s intermediary team was engaged for a police interview with a complainant in an alleged sexual offence matter.

The individual had communication needs relating to mental health, trauma, unclear speech and an acquired brain injury. The intermediary assisted police to develop visual aids which then enabled the complainant to effectively determine a timeline of events. Recommendations such as these have enabled vulnerable individuals to engage in criminal justice processes tailored to their specific communication needs.

“This conference is an opportunity for our ACT intermediaries to learn from and collaborate with renowned experts from jurisdictions around the world,” said Commissioner Yates.

“Similarly, it is an opportunity for the ACT Program to demonstrate its remarkable achievements, including its work as the first Australian jurisdiction where intermediaries are working to facilitate the communication of vulnerable accused.”

/Public Release. View in full here.