Defendants with Autism: using an Intermediary at court

Defendant in court trial

Think about for one moment how someone with autism might feel, locked in a small dark or over-lit cell with metal doors banging loudly, while listening to those under the influence of drugs and alcohol scream and shout around them.  Then ask them to give coherent and quality evidence in a room they are unfamiliar with with people they have never met.  How could an intermediary assist them and the court?

The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (YJCEA) introduced a range of measures that can be used to facilitate the gathering and giving of evidence by vulnerable and intimidated witnesses. The measures are collectively known as "special measures".

Special measures are a series of provisions that help vulnerable and intimidated witnesses give their best evidence in court and help to relieve some of the stress associated with giving evidence. Special measures apply to prosecution and defence witnesses, but not to the defendant and are subject to the discretion of the court.

Its useful to remember at this stage that a person is innocent until proven guilty and the trial is to determine that very question.  Therefore if a defendant has a learning difficulty or disability or a mental health condition that impacts on their communication or understanding then the evidence they give might not be considered reliable or understood correctly by the jury.

Defendants who may be classed as vulnerable should be identified as early as possible, starting with their first contact with the Police or investigating body.  Do not forget that the defendant is also a witness in the court proceedings and it would benefit the court process to have mechanisms in place early on to support the delivery of their evidence.


So how many people with autism are charged with criminal offences?

This is difficult to answer as when a person is arrested or charged the fact they have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not recorded.  There are around 700,000 people in the UK with autism - that's more than 1 in 100.  Someone with ASD is statistically more likely to be a victim than an offender, however a growth in internet crime particularly around social media is starting to change that.

Allegations of stalking, harassment and inappropriate communication are on the rise and typically a person with ASD will feel more confident communicating by email, text or social media, so the possibility for communication to be misunderstood is increased.

One Psychology have dealt with a number of cases involving individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD and charged with the downloading of indecent images.  We have found through our own experiences that some of these individuals are not fully aware of the consequences of their curiosity and due to the strict wording of the sexual offences act, have received heavy punishment at court.


So what options are their for vulnerable defendants with autism?

Intermediary in court

The court can appoint an Intermediary for the defendant on an application (section 29 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999) but getting prior authority for the financial cost, from the Legal Aid Agency, for an assessment report to support the application can be difficult where there has yet to be a diagnosis of autism. Furthermore, remember that the court appoints the intermediary and is responsible for the costs of them attending court. It is difficult for an inexperienced defence solicitor to identify an intermediary to instruct because the defence do not have access to the list of Registered Intermediaries held and used by the police where all will have been professionally vetted and professionally governed. Many Intermediaries will act for the defence, but in any event the list is very small at present, 105 intermediaries for the whole country.


One Psychology: Autism Diagnostic Assessment and Expert Witness

One Psychology can provide full diagnostic assessments for children and adults who are suspected to have Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Our Principal Forensic Psychologist, Katherine Goodsell is also able to assess for associated conditions such as learning difficulties and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

We have provided a number of expert witness reports that have diagnosed an individual and supported courts with understanding how a defendants actions (communication or behaviour) have been influenced or affected by their diagnosis.

Having a forensic psychological assessment for Autism is not a 'get out of jail free card'.  The purpose of the assessment and report is to assist the court with understanding parts of the defendants evidence and to ensure if they are sentenced that they receive appropriate intervention whilst in prison to aid effective rehabilitation.

One Psychology

Contact us on 01908 766536 or email us at for further information regarding our expert witness services.