New Zealand Law Society - Update for lawyers on communication assistance for defendants and witnesses

Update for lawyers on communication assistance for defendants and witnesses

The Ministry of Justice has published the Communication Assistance Quality Framework to guide consistent use of communication assistance. It describes who can provide the service, how it should be delivered and how the Ministry will manage ongoing quality improvement. 

The Ministry of Justice says communication assistance is an important tool for courts to ensure that defendants understand court proceedings, and defendants and witnesses (participants) can give evidence to the best of their ability.

When directed by a judge, communication specialists are engaged to assess participants’ communication abilities and give the court advice on how to enable effective communication.

Defence counsel and prosecutors must now complete an application form to request communication assistance. It is recommended that an application is made when it is suspected a participant may struggle to effectively communicate with their lawyer or understand and answer questions in court.

It is also recommended that a pre-trial/ground-rules hearing is held ahead of a trial involving communication assistance to clarify roles and avoid misunderstanding at trial.

Legal aid lawyers working on a case where a communication assistant has been appointed may apply for an amendment to grant if significant additional work is required.  

More information can be found on the Ministry of Justice website.