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Title: Child witnesses in Scottish criminal courts
Author: Andrews, Samantha J.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7224 7598
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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Gathering evidence from young and vulnerable witnesses requires special care, and subjecting them to the traditional adversarial form of examination and cross-examination – often characterized by overly leading, complex, and confusing questioning – has come under increased scrutiny. The present program of research was designed to investigate: 1) four features of lawyers’ questioning techniques (question type [Chapter 1], linguistic complexity [Chapter 2], question repetition [Chapter 3], and question content [Chapter 4]), 2) how these parameters affected children’s responses (including an in-depth analysis of children’s propensity to express uncertainty [Chapter 5]), and 3) whether the children’s ages affected the ways they were questioned or how they responded. The sample of court transcripts was drawn from 36 trials involving 56 children aged 5 to 17 years old who testified about alleged sexual abuse in Scotland between 2009 and 2014. Analyses showed that a large proportion of the questions posed to children by lawyers were suggestive questions that implied expected responses or introduced undisclosed information. Questions were overly complex linguistically, heavily repetitious, and focused to a large extent on peripheral elements of the allegations. In response, children acquiesced to suggestions most of the time and expressed uncertainty less than might be expected, given the nature of the questioning. Overall, both prosecutors and defense lawyers were insensitive to the capacities of children of different ages. The way children are questioned in court can have negative influences on the quality of the evidence obtained, regardless of the lawyers’ roles or the children’s ages. It is suggested that, in order for trials to be fair, evidence needs to be elicited in accordance with research-informed best-practice guidelines. More advanced training, the use of intermediaries, and the Barnahus model are discussed as potential ways to support the implementation of best-practice questioning strategies.
Supervisor: Lamb, Michael E. Sponsor: ESRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: child witnesses ; cross-examination ; Scotland ; investigative interviewing ; courtroom questioning