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Judicial perceptions of child witness competence

Research paper by Judy Cashmore, Kay Bussey

Indexed on: 01 Jun '96Published on: 01 Jun '96Published in: Law and Human Behavior



Abstract

Concern about the difficulties faced by child witnesses in the legal system has led to two major areas of reform: the relaxation of competence and corroboration requirements, and the introduction of special procedures and physical facilities to reduce the emotional pressures of testifying. Although the implementation of these measures depends largely on judicial discretion, little is known about judicial perceptions of child witnesses and about judicial acceptance of these measures. Fifty magistrates and judges in New South Wales, Australia were asked via interview or questionnaire about their beliefs, concerns, and practices related to child witnesses. There was considerable variability in their views about the competence of child witnesses and the need for special protective measures in court for these witnesses. There was, however, more consensus about those aspects of children's ability to testify that give rise to judicial concerns about their competence. Children's honesty was not at issue; they were generally regarded as being at least as honest as adults, if not more so. They were, however, perceived as highly suggestible and susceptible to the influence of others and prone to fantasy. These findings are consistent with the findings of other studies, and provide a basis for judicial education in relation to child witnesses.