The child witness and the criminal justice process : a case study in law reform
The 1988 and 1991 Criminal Justice Acts transformed the position of the child witness within the criminal justice system. Rules of evidence which had discriminated against children's testimony were progressively abolished, and new procedures were introduced to accommodate children's needs within the trial process. This thesis offers a socio-legal critique of the reforms, analysing the way in which their development and implementation have been ideologically structured. Part Two provides an historical overview of the way in which the legal system has regarded children's testimony. Contrasts are drawn between the relative failure of the 1925 Inter-Departmental Committee on Sexual Offences against Young People to secure changes in the treatment of child witnesses, and the comparative success, some sixty years later, of the Pigot Committee. The links between child witness reform and dominant conceptions of child sexual abuse are investigated. Part Three turns to the implementation of the reforms and reports the findings of a qualitative and ethnographic study conducted for this thesis at one Crown Court Centre. Sixteen contested piosecutions, between them involving evidence from 53 child witnesses, were identified. The final hearing of each case was observed in full, and the attitudes towards the reforms of the barristers and child witnesses concerned were sought by way of interviews and questionnaires. Part Four notes the mixed effects of the reforms, and the categorical distinctions observable at the study Crown Court in the treatment of child complainants and child by-stander witnesses. It is suggested that the reconceptualisation of child sexual abuse as a criminal justice, rather than a welfare, problem, played a significant role in achieving child witness reform, but that the moral rhetoric involved silenced alternative perspectives and has led to the marginalisation of some child witnesses. What these conclusions suggest about the law reform process more generally is briefly discussed.