Judicial Assessment of the Credibility of Child Witnesses
AbstractThis article reports on the results of two research studies carried out by the authors that address the questions of how and how well judges assess the honesty and reliability of children's testimony. One study tested the accuracy of judges and other professionals in assessing the honesty of children giving mock testimony. Judges performed at only slightly above chance levels, though the performance of judges was comparable to other justice system professionals, and significantly better than the performance of law students. The second study, a survey of Canadian judges about their perceptions of child witnesses, reveals that judges believe that compared to adults, children are generally more likely when testifying to make errors due to limitations of their memory or communication skills and due to the effects of suggestive questions. However, children are perceived to generally be more honest than adult witnesses. The survey also revealed that judges believe that children are often asked developmentally inappropriate questions in court, especially by defence counsel. There were no gender differences among the judges in either study. To put this research in context, the article first discusses the inherent challenges in assessing the credibility of witnesses and provides a review of the psychological literature and leading Canadian jurisprudence on the credibility and evidence of children.
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