Responding to communication needs in the justice system


Latest news:

Vulnerability Justice and Communication Conference at Portsmouth University

Our Chair Professor Penny Cooper will be speaking at a conference at The University of Portsmouth on Thursday 16th and Friday 17th May 2019.

For more details visit:

Our Access to Justice for Vulnerable People Conference, deemed a success

The Advocate’s Gateway second international conference: Access to Justice for Vulnerable People took place on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd June 2017 at the Law Society in London. The event was praised by delegates who found it an insightful and useful forum in which to learn and network.

Across the two days, an inspiring array of speakers presented ground breaking research, imparted their knowledge on vulnerability-related-subjects ranging from:

  • international perspectives and innovations across different jurisdictions
  • the pre-trial stage
  • young defendants
  • women in the Criminal Justice System
  • Legal rights and responsibilities
  • effective participation
  • autism and communication
  • special measures and  the use of intermediaries
  • comparative responses to vulnerability, as well as
  • the latest developments in Criminal Justice proceedings

The full programme for detail on sessions and speakers can be found here.

This second international conference led by The Advocate’s Gateway and funded by The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA), explored the access to justice combining and expanding interdisciplinary research and practitioner knowledge to encourage innovation and best practice. Facilitating an international networking exercise as well as, knowledge and practice sharing and the proper presentation of such cases globally.

An engaged audience

  • Sessions were widely discussed on twitter (#TAG17Conf hashtag) where delegates highlighted key points and advice to practitioners and researchers such as:
  • "…there have been many positive changes on the treatment of vulnerable people in the Criminal Justice System, however findings suggest that despite these, we still have a way to go.”;
  • “…there’s a need for a clearer definition of vulnerability, universal ground rules - and a review of basic advocacy training”; “…there should be mandatory disability training for lawyers and judges…”;
  • “…it is very important that ABE interviews are conducted in a coherent manner for vulnerable people…”;
  • “…whether you have a diagnosed vulnerability or not, being an unrepresented defendant makes you vulnerable...”;
  • “…trauma places vulnerable people at a disadvantage in trial due to testimony gaps and inconsistencies then exploited during cross-examination…”
  • And what seemed to sum up the conference’s spirit: “…new guidance must be always backed up by peer reviewed research.”


The Scottish High Court highlights our work

The Scottish High Court has just launched a Justiciary Practice Note on Taking Evidence by a Commissioner. The note is the first step in transforming the way that evidence of children and vulnerable witnesses are treated in Scotland.

The Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian highlighted the Advocate’s Gateway (paragraph 4 of the note) and in particular, the range of toolkits for those preparing to question vulnerable witnesses.

Lady Dorrian said: “This is not something that any party should be fearful of, and it is not intended to constrain the parties unduly; the evidence from experience in England suggests that the requirement to think about lines of questioning in advance has benefited everyone.”

Follow this link to read the full guidance note.

All our toolkits are available via this link.

TAG International Conference 2017 

The Advocate’s Gateway Second International Conference will take place on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd June 2017 at the Law Society, Chancery Lane, London. This year's conference will be entitled: Access to Justice for Vulnerable People

Attending the conference

The conference programme spans over two days (2nd and 3rd of June) with keynote addresses, plenary sessions, panel and breakout sessions. Follow this link to download the full programme.

Follow @TAG_Advocacy on Twitter and join the conversation via #TAG17Conf

We look forward to welcoming you in early June.

Children, Justice and Communication Conference

Our Chair, Professor Penny Cooper will be speaking about vulnerability and special measures at a conference hosted by the Centre for Forensic Interviewing at The University of Portsmouth.

The conference will take place on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 of May 2017 and will focus on the best ways to communicate with children across the criminal justice sector, as well as identifying best practice. 

For more details visit: or download the conference’s flyer.

Access to Justice for Vulnerable People – TAG’s 2nd International Conference

The Advocate’s Gateway Second International Conference will take place on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd June 2017.

The conference will explore the access to justice combining and expanding interdisciplinary research and practitioner knowledge to encourage innovation and best practice.

The aim is to support an international network to share knowledge and practice and the proper presentation of such cases globally. Full details can be found here

Follow @TAG_Advocacy on Twitter and join the conversation via #TAG17Conf

Innovation in the field of sexual violence - St. Mary’s Centre 15th Annual Conference 2017

Professor Penny Cooper (Chair of The Advocate’s Gateway) will be speaking about how TAG supports vulnerable witnesses at the St. Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre.

The Centre is holding its 15th Annual Conference, on 22 and 23 of February. The conference’s full title is: Innovation in the field of sexual violence - Strategy, science, prevention and response.

For more details visit: or download the conference’s flyer.

New guidance issued on facilitating participation of ‘P’ and vulnerable persons in Court of Protection proceedings

On 3 November 2016, Mr Justice Charles issued new guidance on facilitating participation of ‘P’ and vulnerable persons in Court of Protection proceedings. The guidance is intended to promote good practice and a creative, unconventional approach as to how ‘P’ can be put at the centre of Court of Protection practice and processes.

This guidance draws on the work of The Advocate’s Gateway, Nicola Mackintosh QC and Alex Ruck Keene. The Gateway is also recommended as a complimentary resource.

Adults with Autism in the Criminal Justice System

In a recent article in The Psychologist; Dr Clare Allely, Professor Penny Cooper and Dr Toni Wood highlight the importance of practitioners in the criminal justice system having the knowledge and skills to recognise and respond appropriately to a witness or an accused person within the Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The work of The Advocate’s Gateway is cited and in particular, the toolkit for those planning to question someone with ASD.

The article also calls for more research in to evaluating cases involving suspects and defendants with ASD to ‘enable the assessment of the specific offending behaviour and disorder of the defendant and how these may be relevant to determining their mental capacity; culpability and case outcome.’

BSB's Future Bar Training Consultation - Please comment on the Inns’/Bar Council BPTC Proposal

It is vital that as many people as possible respond to the latest Bar Standards Board’s ‘Future Bar Training’ (FBT) consultation closing on 23 December 2016. Follow this link for more details on the model supported by the Inns of Court and the Bar Council.  

We encourage you to respond directly to the BSB and when you do, please also comment on Inns/Bar Council model so as to enable the BSB to properly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all proposals.

Barnahus - Improving the response to child sexual abuse in England

From spring 2017, child victims of sexual abuse, will be able to give their evidence in the safety of a Child House ('Barnahus') at two London locations, radically altering the traditional way in which evidence is taken from child victims.

For more information, please see the Barnahus report from the Children's Commissioner. More details via issue 65 of the Youth Justice Board bulletin.

Toolkits used internationally – training event in Budapest

The Advocate's Gateway toolkits featured at a 3 day 'Train the Trainers' event hosted by the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre at DLA Piper, in Budapest, Hungary. The training, part of an EU wide project on innovating European Lawyers to Advance the Rights of Children with Disabilities, was attended by participants from across the EU, including lawyers and NGOs and Human Rights organisations.

Attendee’s feedback on our toolkits reaffirmed that: “Communication is the most important piece of the entire project”.

The training event comprised the following sessions and topics:

  • Day 1 - A seminar on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other key international and EU human rights texts.
  • Day 2 - Felicity Gerry QC’s presentation on:
    - 'Working with Trauma'
    - 'Building the Skills to Represent Children', and
    - 'Secondary Stress for Lawyers'

    Felicity Gerry QC sits on the Management Committee of The Advocate’s Gateway.

  • Day 3 - A forum on 'National Legal Innovation Strategies' discussing how to inspire corporate law firms and other stakeholders to get involved in strategic litigation and create a systemic change for children with disabilities.

The Advocate's Gateway usage in other jurisdictions (New South Wales - Australia)

In New South Wales (NSW) TAG has been of immense value in the development and implementation of the recent Child Sexual Offences Evidence Pilot. The pilot commenced on 31st of March this year and will run for three years. It is currently in two District Courts, Sydney (Downing Centre) and Newcastle

Professor Penny Cooper (Chair of The Advocate’s Gateway) was requested by the NSW Government earlier in this year to develop and deliver training for witness intermediaries and author a procedural guidance manual for them. There are currently 52 witness intermediaries in the NSW database. The team at Victims Services match referrals from Police and Courts with appropriately skilled intermediaries. They also receive referrals from four Child Abuse Squad (Police) locations across Sydney and Newcastle.

Since 31st of March, 142 referrals have been received to Victims Services from Police, and they have been able to match 87% of these with witness intermediaries. Due to the nature of the investigation process, there are occasions where Police are required to interview within three hours of a report being made; the majority of those that Victims Services fail to match are due to the urgency of the interview and difficulty getting an Intermediary out in time. As a result, TAG resources, and in particular the toolkits, have been invaluable and have been used extensively. This has been the case with witness intermediaries and the legal fraternity and other project stakeholders.

In the very first pre-recorded hearing with a witness intermediary, the Judge recommended Defence Counsel visit the TAG website and peruse the resources, particularly the training video 'A Question of Practice'.

Victims Services at the New South Wales Department of Justice said; "TAG is a brilliant resource for any jurisdiction seeking to improve the justice process for vulnerable witnesses." 

Victims Services only had five months from Government approval of the model to commencement date of the pilot. Legislation was passed in November 2015, namely the Criminal Procedure Amendment (Child Sexual Offence Evidence Pilot) Act 2015.

To date NSW have also held eight pre-recorded hearings with six of these involving witness intermediaries. The feedback from the District Court Judges, Police and families of children involved in the Pilot has been extremely positive.

The first matter in which a pre-recorded hearing took place (without a witness intermediary) is now at the trial stage and although the trial is ongoing, feedback has been positive about the pre-recorded evidence.

TAG continues to be promoted to all stakeholders in NSW involved with the Pilot, specifically intermediaries, Judges and legal practitioners. The training video has been played on numerous occasions when promoting the Pilot to relevant stakeholders and this has been particularly effective in conveying the role and purpose of the intermediary in Court.

An evening with Stuart Tipple

As part of ICCA’s research into the use of expert evidence, the Expert Witness Institute (EWI) hosted an evening with Stuart Tipple, one of Australia’s most well-known criminal defence lawyers with unparalleled expertise in the use of expert evidence.

Introduced by Professor Penny Cooper, Chair of the Advocate’s Gateway; Mr Tipple made a short presentation on expert evidence and the Chamberlain case; followed by a Q&A session and discussions on contemporary issues in expert evidence.

Commenting on the event, Professor Cooper said: “It was a reminder that experts can get it wrong; miscarriages of justice based on incorrect expert opinion can and do still occur. The work of EWI is as vital as ever and Stuart and lawyers like him who commit to the uphill task of righting a miscarriage of justice have my utmost respect. He gave a moving and fascinating account.”

“Addressing Vulnerability in Justice Systems” - the publication

This publication from our hugely successful inaugural International Conference of the same title in June 2015. The book presents a selection of papers taken from speakers at the conference – all of whom are considered experts in their respective fields.

The work of the authors represents much of the current state of knowledge in these areas, and also, evidence of a great change in how vulnerable people are treated in the justice system.

“Addressing Vulnerability in Justice Systems” is available to be purchased via this link. For more information on how this book came about, please visit The Advocate's Gateway website

Promoting Reliability in Expert Evidence - Barristers’ guide for handling statistical evidence

The Inns of Court College of Advocacy, ICCA (formerly the ATC) is working with the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) to produce a new guide for handling statistical evidence.

This short and accessible guide will help barristers and other members of the legal profession better understand the application of statistics in legal situations, particularly the interpretation of evidence in trials.

The guide is being created as part of a wider ICCA project on promoting reliability in expert evidence, including a package of materials to enhance the training of advocates.

Due to be piloted in the autumn, the guide’s final version will be available both on this and the RSS' Statslife websites by the end of the year.

Interim Revised Guidelines on Prosecuting Social Media Cases

These guidelines are primarily concerned with offences that may be committed by reason of the nature or content of a communication sent via social media. Follow this link for more details.

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