Intermediaries in the justice system for people with communication disability: Enacting Sustainable Development Goal 16 in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and New Zealand

Áine Kearns, Dorothy Clarke, Alan Cusack, Aoife Gallagher, Jenny Humphreys, Sally Kedge, Alayne Mckee

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

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Purpose: Individuals with communication disabilities often face barriers when engaging with justice systems. Such barriers pose a material risk to the individual in relation to their right of equal access to justice. These barriers also pose a risk to the relevant State in potentially breaching Sustainable Development Goal 16 peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16). To mitigate these risks, many adversarial criminal justice systems have identified the need for accommodations to facilitate the participation of individuals with communication disabilities.

Result: At the forefront of this movement has been the introduction of intermediaries. By facilitating effective communication between vulnerable persons and stakeholders within the legal system, intermediaries play a pivotal role in ensuring active participation in legal processes. They can also improve the forensic accuracy of the fact-finding inquiry. In this article, we outline case examples of intermediary schemes across three common law countries. As various terms are used to describe the intermediary role including communication assistants and registered intermediaries, the term intermediary will be used throughout.

Conclusion: Although the scope of the role of intermediaries varies across settings in line with policy and legislative frameworks, we draw on shared learning across these countries to guide others in designing an intermediary scheme. We highlight the importance of knowledge sharing across contexts to realise equal access to justice for all (SDG 16).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-146
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Speech-Language Pathology
Issue number1
Early online date8 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In the Republic of Ireland, while formal legislative action in the realm of intermediary advancement may have been found lacking in recent years, policy engagement at a sub-legislative level has not (Cusack, ). Notably, in 2021, the Department of Justice in the Republic of Ireland invited expressions of interest to design and deliver an accredited intermediary training program. Graduates of the program would be qualified to work specifically within the context of the Irish justice system. A proposal for an inter-faculty offering across the School of Law and the School of Allied Health in the University of Limerick was successful in gaining the funding award from the Department of Justice, to design and deliver the only accredited intermediary program in the Republic of Ireland in September 2022. The proposal and subsequent program that has been designed has been informed by key findings from programs and schemes described in this article: Northern Ireland, England and Wales, and other common law jurisdictions including New Zealand.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Speech Pathology Association of Australia Limited.


  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • communication disability
  • registered intermediaries
  • communication assistants
  • justice
  • participation
  • Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16)
  • Humans
  • Sustainable Development
  • Northern Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • Communication Disorders


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