Cross-continent: a vulnerable-witness video-link

Registered intermediary Jennifer Beaumont describes how sound planning, communication and partnership underpinned a successful video link for a vulnerable complainant in Kenya to a British court

In February 2017, the National Crime Agency started investigating a British pensioner after British nationals staying in Kenya reported his inappropriate behaviour with children to British police. The pensioner would later be tried in a British court and convicted of ten child abuse offences.Anumber of witnesses including a complainant gave live-link evidence from Kenya.

I carried out an intermediary assessment of one young complainant in Kenya. She lived with her family in extreme poverty in a one-roomed hut with no basic amenities such as gas, electricity, or running water. She lacked confidence in her ability to communicate, found meeting new people difficult and presented as self-conscious and immature for her age. She spoke English, although her vocabulary was limited and accuracy variable. She communicated more accurately in her own language, through a Swahili interpreter.

I designed a personalised picture booklet about giving evidence in court, and used You & Co’s interactive courtroom to help the young complainant to understand the UK court process. She asked to give evidence from Kenya.

My report recommended Special Measures with regard to the Youth Justice Crime and Evidence Act 1999 as the vulnerable complainant was just 16. I supported the request that evidence should be given via live link from Kenya to improve its quality, ie completeness, coherence and accuracy. Robust pre-trial preparation was undertaken, including meeting the judge and advocates to minimise anxiety (no wigs and gowns), and ensuring that the complainant understood how communication with the court would work. Short, clear questions containing everyday words with the question words at the beginning of the sentence were recommended to avoid misunderstanding. Advocates’ questions were reviewed as the complainant was poorly educated, had limited comprehension and was inhibited about the subject matter.

Kenya was two hours ahead of UK time; this was factored into the court day. A brief Ground Rules Hearing took place to discuss my recommendations.

The live link was hosted by a Kenyan educational establishment in the city two hours by car from the complainant’s village. The live-link room was a large classroom with rows of continuous wooden desks and office chairs. Projected on the walls at the front of the room were two large cinema-sized screens. The right-hand screen displayed the classroom, the left showed the live link from the UK court. A camera mounted centrally was voice activated and zoomed in to focus on the person who was speaking. Another classroom was laid out as a waiting room with refreshments for witnesses.

The trial

Day 1: Kenya was experiencing the worst torrential rain for 20 years; roads were flooded and power was down. An emergency generator was used to establish the planned live-link to the UK at 10am GMT. Unfortunately, an over-running trial in the UK court delayed the complainant meeting the judge and advocates until 1pm (GMT). This meeting proved to be a positive but overwhelming experience, causing the self-conscious complainant to withdraw and revert to one-word responses that were inaudible over the link. The interpreter and myself spent time discussing the communication assessment findings, problem-solving and joint-planning how our different roles could work to facilitate the complainant to give best evidence. I discussed seating, use of body maps to enable the complainant to show and tell, and visual court rules to support communication, as culturally the complainant would be unable to verbalise something was wrong to someone in authority. To assist with desensitisation, memory refreshing took place in the link room where the complainant watched her ABE video interview, which was to be used as Evidence in Chief (EIC).

Day 2: At about noon (GMT), after the jury had watched the complainant’s EIC, the link was established. I noted a small lip synchronisation delay when the judge made introductions and the usher read out the oaths for the interpreter and the complainant to repeat. Unfortunately, I observed that significant visual distortion and pixilation obscuring faces on the large Kenyan screen was a source of distraction for the complainant. I requested that advocates keep movement to a minimum to reduce this distraction.

The young complainant gave evidence through the interpreter, the registered intermediary alerted the court to difficulties, monitored the flow of communication and provided timely feedback on body language, visual charts and body maps used by the complainant. An agreed break took place at 40 minutes. Her evidence was concluded at about 2pm (GMT), 4pm Kenyan time.

Jennifer Beaumont is a Registered Intermediary and an Occupational Therapist.


Good practice

  • Advocates Gateway Toolkit 9 – Planning to question someone using a remote link.
  • A live-link test from the educational environment to the British court.
  • Excellent international partnership observed between Kenyan law enforcement officers, National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service.
  • Question review prior to a Ground Rules Hearing taking place.
  • Use of visual aids to show and tell.
Author details: 
Jennifer Beaumont

Registered Intermediary and an Occupational Therapist.