The Advocate's Gateway Toolkits
These toolkits provide advocates with general good practice guidance when preparing for trial in cases involving a witness or a defendant with communication needs.
Information about specific communication abilities and needs should always be sought from the individual witness or defendant, or their family/ support worker/ teachers etc.
Using the Toolkits
Each toolkit contains the following statement "Questioning that contravenes principles for obtaining accurate information from a witness by exploiting his or her developmental limitations is not conducive to a fair trial and would contravene the Codes of Conduct".
The toolkits also provide:
links to source material
trial transcript questions, with suggestions about how they might be improved
highlighted examples of good practice and poor practice, and
lists of references, contributors and reviewers
Please note that if you intend to use The Advocate’s Gateway materials or toolkits in order to assist with communication needs, for anything other than personal, non-commercial use, you must obtain permission in advance from The Advocate’s Gateway.
Word Doc versions of the toolkits are available upon request.
Should you wish to access our archived Toolkits for educational or research purposes, please click here.
Toolkit 1: Ground Rules Hearings
Ground rules hearings and the fair treatment of vulnerable people in court
The toolkit contains information about ground rules hearings (‘GRHs’) in the criminal courts and is primarily intended for use by advocates as well as solicitors, police officers, social workers and judges. This toolkit is written with criminal proceedings in England and Wales in mind, however, the ground rules approach is also being applied in other parts of the justice system, for instance, the family courts, the employment tribunals and the Court of Protection.
To access the Toolkit, please click here or on the image.
To support Toolkit 1, please also see the Ground Rules Hearings Checklist.
Toolkit 1a: Case Management in Criminal Cases
Case management in criminal cases when a witness or a defendant is vulnerable
This toolkit has been designed to assist with case management when a witness or defendant is vulnerable. The layout of the toolkit is designed to reflect the normal stages of the pre-trial and trial process.
To access the Toolkit, please click here or on the image.
To support Toolkit 1a, please also see the Essential Questions Checklist.
Toolkit 2: General Principles from Research, Policy, and Guidance
General principles from research, policy and guidance: planning to question a vulnerable person or someone with communication needs
This toolkit contains general information about questioning a vulnerable person or somebody with communication needs and is primarily intended for use by advocates and judges, as well as police officers, social workers, solicitors and guardians. For more detailed guidance, please refer to the toolkit most appropriate for the person being questioned.
Toolkit 3: Planning to Question Someone with Autism
Planning to question someone with an autism spectrum disorder including Asperger syndrome
This toolkit aims to provide a practical guide for advocates about questioning either a witness or a defendant with autism spectrum disorder (henceforth ‘autism’). The toolkit brings together policy, research and guidance relating to definitions of autism, how autism can affect communication, and what should be done to facilitate someone with autism’s effective participation in the court process.
Toolkit 4: Planning to Question Someone with a Learning Disability
Planning to question someone with a learning disability
This toolkit brings together policy, research and guidance relating to definitions and characteristics of learning disability and how learning disability can affect communication. The guidance in this toolkit is not intended to be a replacement for a communication assessment that would provide advice specific to the individual person. An intermediary can help highlight an individual’s communication needs.
For further guidance on the work of intermediaries, please refer to Toolkit 16 - Intermediaries: step by step.
Toolkit 5: Planning to Question Someone with 'Hidden Disabilities'
Planning to question someone with ‘hidden’ disabilities: specific language impairment, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and AD(H)D
This toolkit has been developed to assist in cases where specialised assistance is required. The court process is generally well-equipped to deal with the needs of witnesses with common difficulties. The responsibility for the conduct of a fair trial lies with the court and counsel. More specialised assistance may be required in the case of a witness who has a significant specific language difficulty of which there should be ‘evidence’ of a diagnosis, e.g. in the form of a recent educational psychologist’s report, or statement of special educational needs.
Toolkit 6: Planning to Question a Child or Young Person
Planning to question a child or young person
This toolkit addresses the approach that should be taken when preparing to question a child or young person. Advocates must tailor their approach to the individual child and be flexible because no two children have the same profile of communication strengths and weaknesses. Advocates must adapt to the witness, not the other way round. Obtaining a full picture of the child’s communication capabilities is essential and an intermediary can help with this by requesting information, e.g: about the child’s education; whether he or she has additional support at home, school, college and so on.
Toolkit 7: Additional Factors Concerning Children under Seven
Additional factors concerning children under seven (or functioning at a very young age)
This toolkit considers the additional factors relevant to questioning a child under the age of seven. Children as young as three can be very competent communicators and can give accurate and reliable evidence if properly questioned. The child’s communicative competence is very dependent on the competence of the questioner to adapt their communication in line with the child’s needs. Very young children do not organise events in their minds in the same way as adults. They often leave out settings, descriptions, chronology and emotions in the telling of a past event. They can be particularly suggestible. However, when expectations are clear and questioning is modified appropriately, children as young as two can recall and report past experience accurately.
Toolkit 8: Effective Participation of Young Defendants
Effective participation of young defendants
This toolkit considers how an advocate may ensure the effective participation of young defendants. All children (those under 18) require special consideration by virtue of their age and developmental immaturity. Teenagers are at particular risk of miscommunication because of their reluctance to ask for clarification and adults’ expectation of their ability to understand. Particular care is needed where a young person has mental health problems, learning or other disabilities or speech and language difficulties. These issues are not always identifiable at an early stage.
Toolkit 9: Planning to Question Someone using a Remote Link
Planning to question someone using a remote link
This toolkit seeks to advise on the appropriate planning needed to question someone using a remote link. When a person who is vulnerable is to give evidence, consideration should be given to the use of live link including a ‘remote’ live link. In preparation for trial, the court must take ‘every reasonable step’ to facilitate the attendance and participation of witnesses and defendants. One such step is to identify at the earliest opportunity those whose evidence would be best given via a remote link from a different court centre, police station, video-conferencing facility or any other suitable location.
Toolkit 10: Identifying Vulnerability in Witnesses
Identifying vulnerability in witnesses and parties and making adjustments
This toolkit brings together policy, research and guidance relating to the general principles and examples of adjustments for vulnerability, early identification of vulnerability, advocates’ duties and responsibilities, obtaining expert advice, and special measures, liaison and diversion and other examples of good practice in criminal cases.
The toolkit contains information about vulnerable witnesses and parties. It is primarily intended for use by lawyers, witness supporters, judges, magistrates and police.
Toolkit 11: Planning to Question Someone who is Deaf
Planning to question someone who is deaf
This toolkit addresses the approach that should be taken when planning to question someone who is deaf. Deaf people are as diverse as the wider community – ‘hearing’ people and no two people who are deaf will have exactly the same profile of strengths and needs.
This toolkit contains general guidance and is not a replacement for assessment by an appropriate expert, for example, a psychologist and/or Deaf Registered Intermediary (Deaf RI) who will provide advice specific to the individual. Assessment should be considered in order to advise the court of a deaf person’s communication needs and any adaptation to process which is required. The guidance pertains to both deaf adults and children, with even greater care needed in the case of deaf children, where specialist expertise in this field is essential.
Toolkit 12: General Principles when Questioning Witnesses and Defendants with Mental Disorder
General principles when questioning witnesses and defendants with mental disorder
This toolkit is currently under review, a revised version will be published in due course.
Toolkit 13: Vulnerable Witnesses in the Family Courts
Vulnerable witnesses and parties in the family courts
The toolkit contains information about vulnerable witnesses in the family and is primarily intended for use by advocates as well as solicitors, social workers, guardians, the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS) officers and judges. Advocates should be alert to risk factors which may indicate that a witness or party in family proceedings is vulnerable and, where necessary, expert advice should be sought. General risk factors which suggest a witness is vulnerable are outlined in Toolkit 10 - Identifying vulnerability in witnesses and defendants. However, this toolkit deals with the specific issues relating to vulnerable witnesses and parties in family proceedings involving children and aims to provide general guidance for family lawyers and advocates for use in family cases.
Toolkit 14: Using Communication Aids
Using communication aids in the criminal justice system
The toolkit contains information about aids to communication within the justice process, and is primarily intended for use by advocates as well as police officers, social workers, solicitors, guardians and judges. This toolkit aims to ensure that advocates are familiar with a range of communication aids. It is not suggested that advocates should devise communication aids of the sort described in this toolkit. This toolkit summarises communication aids: definition, function, cautions and safeguards, types of communication aids and how they can be used, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), and people who may require communication aids.
Toolkit 15: Witnesses and defendants with autism
Witnesses and defendants with autism: memory and sensory issues
This toolkit considers the principles relating to persons with autism, memory and sensory issues. Advocates must treat every person with autism as unique. Memory and sensory differences may be marked, mild or, at times, they may not even be apparent. It is important that expert evidence is available to the advocates and court about the individual and how their condition affects them. At a ground rules hearing, the judge and advocates should discuss whether the jury will be assisted by an explanation about the defendant’s condition so as to avoid potential misinterpretation of his or her behaviour in court or behaviour relating to the offences charged
Toolkit 16: Intermediaries: Step by Step
Intermediaries: step by step
The toolkit contains information about intermediaries in criminal cases in England and Wales and is primarily intended for use by advocates as well as judges, solicitors, police officers, dock officers, expert witnesses and social workers. Courts must take every reasonable step to encourage and to facilitate the attendance of witnesses and to facilitate the participation of any person including the defendant. This facilitation includes giving directions for the appropriate treatment and questioning of a witness or defendant especially where there is an intermediary
Toolkit 17: Vulnerable Witnesses in the Civil Courts
Vulnerable witnesses and parties in the civil courts
This toolkit provides a general guide for many differing types of legal processes and is designed to focus attention on vulnerability at all stages of case preparation, including where a case is settled, as well as at court. Civil litigation can cover a wide range of civil and commercial disputes, immigration, employment, housing, public law and so on. It may also be a useful guide for formal inquiries, such as the Goddard Inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
Toolkit 18: Working with traumatised witnesses, defendants and parties
This toolkit is currently under review, a revised version will be published in due course.
Toolkit 19: Supporting Participation in Courts and Tribunals
Supporting Participation in Courts and Tribunals
This toolkit draws on the findings of research conducted by the authors which involved 159 interviews with judges, lawyers, court staff and other practitioners and over 300 hours’ observational research conducted in in the criminal courts (both Crown and magistrates’), Family Court, Employment Tribunal and First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber).
Toolkit 20: Court of Protection
Eliciting, Understanding, and Applying a Person’s Values in Best Interests Decision Making
This toolkit draws on the Judging Values and Participation in Mental Capacity Law research undertaken between 2018 and 2022, funded by the Arts and Humanities and Research Council. As part of the project, empirical research was conducted involving qualitative interviews with 56 legal professionals: legal practitioners specialising in Court of Protection (‘CoP’) work and retired judges with specialist expertise in mental capacity law.
The toolkits contained within this area no longer can or should be relied upon as indicative of best practice for dealing with the vulnerabilities listed. Some of these toolkits have been ‘retired’ from the website because the subject of the toolkit has been deemed too complex or such that there are too many divided views as to the appropriate approach to take. Others contained here are in the process of being revised and newer versions being added to TAG’s current and constantly evolving list of toolkits. However, these toolkits are being provided as a historical record and evidence of what was previously proffered as guidance in relation to certain vulnerabilities.
Please click on the relevant Toolkit to access the archived materials.
Toolkit 1a: Case management in criminal cases when a witness or a defendant is vulnerable (10 April 2017)
CHECKLIST: Essential questions on Toolkit 1a (10 April 2017)
Toolkit 1: Ground rules hearings and the fair treatment of vulnerable people in court (1 December 2016)
Toolkit 2: General principles from research, policy and guidance: planning to question a vulnerable person or someone with communication needs (30 November 2015)
Toolkit 3: Planning to question someone with an autism spectrum disorder including Asperger syndrome (1 December 2016)
Toolkit 4: Planning to question someone with a learning disability (30 November 2015)
Toolkit 5: Planning to question someone with ‘hidden’ disabilities: specific language impairment, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and AD(H)D (15 December 2015)
Toolkit 6: Planning to question a child or young person (15 December 2015)
Toolkit 7: Additional factors concerning children under seven (or functioning at a very young age) (15 December 2015)
Toolkit 8: Effective participation of young defendants (20 March 2017)
Toolkit 9: Planning to question someone using a remote link (20 March 2017)
Toolkit 10: Identifying vulnerability in witnesses and parties and making adjustments (20 March 2017)
Toolkit 11: Planning to question someone who is deaf (9 December 2016)
Toolkit 12: General principles when questioning witnesses and defendants with mental disorder (10 July 2014)
Toolkit 13: Vulnerable witnesses and parties in the family courts (8 November 2014)
Toolkit 14: Using communication aids in the criminal justice system (27 February 2015)
Toolkit 15: Witnesses and defendants with autism: memory and sensory issues (27 February 2015)
Toolkit 17: Vulnerable witnesses and parties in the civil courts (31 July 2015)
The Toolkits are copyrighted materials.