Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Chester shortlisted for international collaboration supporting vulnerable victims and witnesses

Posted on 21st September 2017

A member of staff at the University of Chester has been shortlisted for one of the most prestigious awards in the higher education sector, for a project working to implement the use of intermediaries in child abuse cases in Australia.

•	Dr Michelle Mattison, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Chester.
• Dr Michelle Mattison, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Chester.

The Times Higher Education (THE) Awards are considered the ‘Oscars’ of the sector. The work of Dr Michelle Mattison (a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Chester) and Professor Penny Cooper (Barrister and Honorary Professor at City Law School, a Visiting Professor at the University of Roehampton and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London), in collaboration with the New South Wales Department of Justice and the Police Force of New South Wales, has been recognised in the International Collaboration of the Year category.

Outside of her University role, Dr Michelle Mattison is a Registered Intermediary (RI) with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Ministry of Justice. She is also an Intermediary for Triangle, a multidisciplinary team which is skilled at communicating with children and young people with a wide range of needs. As an intermediary, Dr Mattison facilitates communication with vulnerable victims, witnesses, and defendants during police investigations and during criminal trial proceedings. It means that she can assess a vulnerable person’s communication needs and make recommendations on how best to communicate with an individual, which also enables better evidence.

Since 2003, Professor Penny Cooper has led the development of training and national guidance for Registered Intermediaries in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and New South Wales, Australia. Dr Mattison and Professor Cooper also collaborate on The Advocate's Gateway - the judicially endorsed free guidance for advocates working with vulnerable people in the justice system: http://www.theadvocatesgateway.org/

After being awarded research funding by the University of Chester, Dr Mattison and Professor Penny Cooper were engaged by the New South Wales Department of Justice in Australia to conduct research and deliver training to over 400 justice system practitioners, including newly recruited intermediaries, police, prosecutors, and judges, to implement the first pilot intermediary scheme of its kind in Australia for child victims of sexual abuse. 

The collaboration led to Dr Mattison and Professor Cooper giving expert evidence to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, about the use of intermediaries . The Commission has been running since 2013 to inquire into responses and allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia and sought to find out more about the way the intermediary system currently works in the UK. The Royal Commission recently published its final report and recommended the use of intermediaries across all Australia: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/

The international collaboration resulted in the accreditation and introduction of 60 child witness intermediaries with a primary objective of enabling the police and the courts to obtain the best evidence from child victims of sexual abuse including those with special needs. Since the implementation of the pilot in April 2016, intermediaries in Australia have been used in hundreds of police interviews and hearings at court, involving over a hundred child victims and child witnesses.

Dr Mattison said: “I am extremely pleased that this international collaboration is being recognised by our peers. It was an honour to give evidence to the Royal Commission and we are hopeful that our evidence will help to ensure that appropriate provisions are put in place for vulnerable people in the criminal justice system. 

 “New South Wales is now leading the way in Australia, with its pilot scheme, which will focus specifically on the use of intermediaries in cases involving sexual assault and children. Our hope is that the pilot is successful, which may also lead to other Australian states adopting this provision.

“The training was well received. NSW now has a large number of trained and accredited intermediaries to assist communication with some of the most vulnerable people in society. It was a privilege to be able to be part of this process, which is new to Australia, from the very beginning.”

Welcoming the nomination, Professor Tim Wheeler, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “The Times Higher Education Awards are the most coveted in the sector and are known as the Higher Education Oscars. For Dr Michelle Mattison and, indeed, the University itself to be recognised in the International Collaboration category is particularly exciting.

“We are now waiting eagerly to see what news November’s ‘Oscars’ ceremony brings.”

Dr Mattison is also a contributing author to Cooper and Norton's leading text, Vulnerable People and the Criminal Justice System, published by the Oxford University Press: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/vulnerable-people-and-the-criminal-justice-system-9780198801115?cc=ua&lang=en

The THE Awards are open to all UK Higher Education institutions to recognise and celebrate outstanding examples of best practice. Winners will be revealed at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on Thursday November 30.