New research into the role of Registered Intermediaries in court cases involving child witnesses

Dr Sarah Krahenbuhl (Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Course Leader – BSc Forensic Psychology, Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) has had a new study accepted for publication in the journal Psychology, Crime and Law. Sarah blogs about her new study below:

The new paper, titled ‘Mock jurors’ perceptions of a child witness: The impact of the presence and/or intervention of a Registered Intermediary during cross-examination’, featured students from Psychology and Law departments who took the parts of barristers, court clerk, child witness, and Registered Intermediary as part of a mock trial. The students, who volunteered their time for the time, are named in the acknowledgements for the publication and were given a useful insight into the research process and experience of research in Forensic Psychology. The University’s mock court room was used for the study and the cross-examination of the child victim was video recorded and shown to mock juror participants.

The findings of the study showed no effect of the presence or intervention of the Registered Intermediary on mock juror perceptions, which supports their neutral role in court proceedings. However, rather concerning was the way in which one factor, the likelihood of a guilty verdict, was affected by which professional gave an intervention – if the Registered Intermediary was present and included an intervention (to support communication with the child witness) then the likelihood of a guilty verdict was lower than if the Registered Intermediary was absent and the judge gave the same intervention – the converse was found when no interventions were included. This raises the question as to mock juror perceptions of what is an appropriate role for professionals to take – but that this has an impact on their guilty verdicts is highly concerning.

This new study has recently been accepted for publication in the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, and the full text of the article can now be accessed via the journal’s website:

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.


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Dr Sarah Krähenbühl blogs on the 2016 Intermediaries for Justice Conference

Dr Sarah Krähenbühl (Lecturer in Forensic Psychology & Course Leader for Staffordshire’s BSc in Forensic Psychology) reports on a recent conference held at Staffordshire University for researchers, policy makers and professionals with interests in the use of vulnerable individuals as witnesses:

On March 12th 2016 a national conference took place at Staffordshire University called ‘Intermediaries for Justice’. Registered Intermediaries (RI) are professionals who facilitate communication with vulnerable witnesses (and now also with vulnerable suspects) who are participating in legal proceedings. An RI will have specialist expertise in an area of communication, will conduct an assessment with a vulnerable person, and then liaise with all other professionals involved in the legal proceedings (e.g. Police Officers, Barristers, Judge) to ensure that appropriate communication takes place. At this conference, in addition to Registered Intermediaries, there were a range of delegates including Police, Social Workers, charitable organisation representatives (e.g. Citizens Advice Bureau), academics and students from Staffordshire University. The speakers included Hon Ms Justice Russell, HHJ Sally Cahill QC, Dr. Sarah Krähenbühl, Gill Darvill, Dame Joyce Plotnikoff and Dr Richard Woolfson.

Apr16 SK Conference picture

Dr Sarah Krähenbühl (of Staffordshire University) and Gill Darvill (Registered Intermediary) gave a presentation on the UK findings of a Europe-wide research project conducted for the Fundamental Rights Agency (Vienna) regarding children’s experiences in the Criminal Justice System.

In addition there were a series of 6 discussion groups facilitated by professionals covering a range of topics related to legal proceedings such as witness interview training, pre-trial recorded cross-examination, pre-trial preparation, individuals with autism or mental health vulnerabilities, and fitness to plead issues.

The conference was a huge success and was greatly oversubscribed. You can get further information about the work of Registered Intermediaries from the ‘Advocates Gateway’ website – and of course, look out for their next conference in 2017!

The School of Psychology, Sport and Exercise at Staffordshire University is a leading School in the UK for Psychology degrees and is situated in the heart of England.  We produce internationally recognized research which is driving knowledge in this area forward and we work with a variety of healthcare providers, charities, international sports teams and private sector organisations.

For more information or details of the wide range of Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit our website and our courses page.

New research explores how officers conduct investigative interviews with children

Dr Sarah Krähenbühl, Lecturer in Psychology and Forensic Psychology researcher at Staffordshire University, discusses her new research exploring the use of “ground rules” by police officers and social workers when interviewing children:

This study examined over 50 transcripts of investigative interviews conducted with children who were either witnesses to, or victims of, different forms of abuse. The particular focus was when, how and if ground rules were used by the interviewing officers (generally a Police Officer but a Social Worker may take this role) and then to establish the likely impact of this on the child’s understanding and the remainder of the interview.

Ground rules refer to explanations such as shutterstock_131453660 Resizedsay if you don’t know’, ‘tell me if I get something wrong’ and an agreement to tell the truth. The interviewing protocol (known as ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ 2011) states that ground rules should be included in all interviews with children. The study took a mixed methodological approach with numerical assessment of what ground rules were included, when this happened, were there any subsequent repetitions of the rules, and a qualitative approach as to the wording used and implications of this.

The results showed that there was a lack of consistency in ground rule implementation despite clear interviewing protocol guidance. Of greater concern was that when the ground rules were implemented the child’s understanding was not established and the relevance of the ground rules to the remainder of the interview was rarely established. So, this study has relevance not only to interviewing officers and legal professionals but also has implications in relation to assessments of child credibility when giving evidence.

Dr Krähenbühl’s study has recently been accepted for publication by Psychiatry, Psychology and Law and can be accessed via the journal’s website:

Dr Krähenbühl teaches on Staffordshire University’s Forensic Psychology degree – for more information about our degrees please visit the Forensic Psychology course page and the Psychology courses webpages.