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Questioning affects children’s evidence
Cross-examining child witnesses in court fails to get to the truth, suggests a new study published this week in our Legal and Criminological Psychology journal.
The study, undertaken by Rhiannon Fogliati and Kay Bussey from Macquarie University, Australia, examined the assumption that cross-examination produces a more truthful testimony.
Rhiannon explained: 'In Australian child abuse cases children are still cross-examined by the defence even though many find this process distressing. There have been many recent child-focused changes to the legal process; however, cross-examination has remained largely unaltered, due to the assumption that it promotes truthful testimony.”
The study examined the effects of direct questioning as well as the more leading cross questioning on 120 children aged between six and eight who had witnessed an adult doing something wrong.
The results showed that in contrast to the legal assumption cross questioning did not promote truthful reporting of the adult’s wrongdoing. Rather, older children were less likely to provide a truthful disclosure of the transgression under cross-examination than direct-examination.
Kay said: “Our findings indicate that cross-examination does not help children provide truthful testimony and may even jeopardise older children’s testimonies. We know giving testimony can be very distressing for children and these results suggest that cross-examination may not be the best method for promoting truthful testimony in children aged five – eight”
Kay continued: “However, there are limitations to this study, such as the mild severity of the transgression used, and we would recommend that further research is necessary.”
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Society members can access via PsychSource, our searchable journals, books and multimedia database, developed in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell. Abstracts are free to all, full-text free to members.
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