Child Witness

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School of Law, Justice & Community Studies
HND Criminology Year 1

Psychology of Crime 2

June 2010

Child Witness and their common fears:

Children will have fears of appearing in a courtroom. Seeing the accused, speaking in front of number of people, feeling the pressure to conform and satisfy the questioner, confusing what they said before, misunderstanding questions, etc. Tom is no exception; therefore the courts have special arrangements made for child witnesses.

Special arrangements can be made to make Tom feel at ease with giving evidence at court, these are[1]:

• A screen can be set up to prevent the accused, Alan, seeing Tom. Screen arrangements may vary from court to court. The police and court prefer screens since they feel it offers the witness confidence and does not affect the court case.

• Tom can give evidence through a live television link. Tom will not be able to see the court room nor the accused yet be able to evidence. Davis and Noon (1991) found that child witnesses were satisfied with this method they were more cooperative and audible.

• The courtroom can be emptied of certain people to give Tom a feel of giving evidence in private, however, the accused and the legal representatives are present. This does go against the issue of open justice; however, this is useful when significant numbers of the defendant’s supports are present.

• The court may remove wigs and gowns to make the courtroom less menacing and bring more of an everyday feel to it. However, this has been seen as insignificant by the police thus seldom used. Children are used to seeing wigs and gowns that they may not feel that they are in front of a proper court.

• Tom can pre-record his evidence-in-chief to be shown in the courtroom. According to Davies et al (1995) this has strong support from child support workers and this method increases the accuracy and gives the evidence more completeness. Police agree that this method puts the child witness at ease and therefore they give more effective evidence to the court.

• Also video recording of cross-examination and re-examination can be used as evidence.

• Tom can also give evidence through the use of intermediaries. This provision is mainly for those who are disabled or other conditions which require the use of an interpreter or other forms of aid to communication.

• Tom’s parents can attend court and reassure tom with their presence. However, his parents will not be able to join him until he has finished giving evidence.

Which measure should tom choose?

According to Hamlyn et al (2004) live television link and pre-recorded evidence were the preferred means of giving evidence at court for child witnesses. This is a less daunting means of providing evidence for children and because of that it enables them to communicate more clearly and with confidence. Also Plotnikoff and Woolfson (2004) found that children would prefer to have choice and be fully informed of each method rather than just be allocated one measure over the other. Having choice offers the child witness time to consider a method more in their comfort zone and more control over their participation in the court case.

Recommendations

To make the experience less daunting for Tom, separate waiting areas, entrances and toilets, with an accompanying liaison officer will be desirable. This way Tom will have to worry about coming face to face with the accused or his supporters. The presence of the liaison officer will be valuable as is it will calm Tom and the officer will answer and reassure any anxieties he has about the court and its procedures. The period spent waiting for the court is another inconvenience which should be avoided if possible. One of the biggest problems may arise if Tom is cross-examined and the language the barristers might use, who may use words and...
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