Vulnerable Witnesses and Defendants: The Use of a Communication Assistant (On Demand)

Recorded Seminar 2 CPD Hrs
Your desk or portable device


The use of a communication assistant (CA) is a new and fast-growing feature of the New Zealand justice system. While guided by international practices, there is a need to understand the issues and processes for engaging a CA within our own context. This On Demand seminar defines relevant terminology; provides guidance for identifying communication vulnerability (and who might need communication assistance); and offers practical suggestions for meeting the needs of a vulnerable witness or defendant. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn more about how to identify communication vulnerability.
  • Develop a greater understanding of current legislation for the use of communication assistance, the lawyer’s responsibilities, and steps that can be taken when engaging a communication assistant.
  • Learn about strategies and “special measures” that Courts have adopted to meet the needs of vulnerable witnesses and defendants.
  • Gain insights into current research being undertaken in New Zealand and the opportunity to participate in this. 

Who should view?

Criminal lawyers including for defence and prosecution. Others with an interest in identifying communication vulnerability may also benefit from attending.

Order timeframe

Access details will be delivered via email within 15 minutes.


Clare McCann
SLT and Communication Assistant
The University of Auckland

Clare is a senior lecturer in speech-language therapy at the University of Auckland. She has worked as a speech language therapist in NZ, Germany and the UK. Since returning to NZ her research and clinical work focuses on language disorders in adults and adolescents.

She is a principal investigator in the Centre for Brain Research, is the Head of Speech Science (in the School of Psychology), and advocates strongly for people with communication difficulties who struggle to have their voice heard.

Clare was one of the founding members of Talking Trouble Aotearoa NZ (TTANZ); a collaboration between three SLTs which aims to improve the speech, language and communication outcomes for vulnerable children and youth.

Michelle Bonetti
SLT and Communication Assistant, Moretalk

With over 25 years as a Speech Language Therapist (SLT), Michelle Bonetti was the first Specialist in NZ to be engaged by the MOJ, as a Court appointed Communication Assistant – CA (Hetherington 2012), and since held over a 50 CA contracts, providing specialist assessment and support to the court for vulnerable witnesses and defendants. 

In 2017 Michelle received UK based training as an Intermediary, including forensic questioning of children, with further research and publication of “Communication Assistants (Intermediaries) – Structure, training and support – Lessons for New Zealand” funded by the NZ Law Foundation.

Michelle continues to provide mentoring and supervision to a growing group of CA contractors around the country

David Niven

Jo Murdoch 
Meredith Connell

Jo Murdoch is a partner at Meredith Connell within the firm’s Crown Specialist Team.  Jo has prosecuted and defended serious crime in the Youth Court, District and High Courts, and has appeared for both Crown and defence in the Court of Appeal.

She teaches trial advocacy at Auckland Law School and Criminal Procedure at Otago Law School. From 2004 to 2005, Jo clerked for the Right Honourable Dame Sian Elias, the Chief Justice and presiding Judge of the Supreme Court. 

Jo is actively involved from the Crown’s perspective in the running of the Sexual Violence Pilot Court in the Auckland District Court and has a particular interest in utilising communication assistance for complainants.


His Honour Judge Collins