23 February 2016
Registered Intermediaries in Civil Trials – A New Legal Precedent
Registered intermediaries can now be used in civil trials, thanks to a recent legal precedent set in a case in which Slater and Gordon were instructed.
In the case of George Andrew Connor v. Castle Cement (and others), the High Court allowed a claimant with communication difficulties to be assisted by a registered intermediary whilst giving evidence.
An intermediary is someone who the court approves to communicate to the claimant the questions asked in court and to communicate back to the court the answers given in response. Intermediaries also make recommendations to the court on the format and style of questions to be put to the claimant, and the venue from where the claimant’s evidence is given.
The possibility of intermediaries being used in civil trails had previously been explored in other cases, but these all settled before trial.
The George Connor Case
George was working at Castle Cement in 2010 when he was exposed to dust and fumes over several days whilst working in a large structure called a cyclone.
This cumulative exposure caused George to develop severe chest and breathing problems, as well as a chronic psychiatric condition known as Ganser syndrome, or hysterical pseudo dementia.
George’s condition deteriorated to the extent that, just one year later, the Court of Protection ruled he lacked capacity to make decisions for himself in respect of his property and financial affairs. This meant that, in 2012 when a claim was brought against Castle Cement (and others) for George’s injuries and loss, it had to be brought on George’s behalf by his wife and litigation friend.
Both George and his wife moved to France in 2014, where they remain resident, and George’s personal injury claim proceeded to trial on liability and causation. During court proceedings, the judge allowed George to give evidence via a video link and also granted permission for him to be assisted by a registered intermediary.
What the Ruling Means
For a number of years now, registered intermediaries have been used in criminal trials and the family courts in cases involving children. The Connor case has now set a precedent for intermediaries to be used in civil litigation.
Vulnerable people who may not understand questions asked in a cross examination can now benefit from the help of an intermediary, who can suggest to the court alternative ways of phrasing a question. Intermediaries can also help vulnerable claimants by intervening during trial whenever there is an unfair ‘thread’ of questions asked by opposing counsel.
Ken Brough is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Immediate legal representation and rehabilitation support can be made available from anywhere in the UK and we offer home or hospital visits for seriously injured people who are not able to attend one of our offices.
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