Courtroom questioning of child sexual abuse complainants: Views of Australian criminal justice professionals

Nina J. Westera, Martine B Powell, Rachel Zajac, Jane Goodman-Delahunty

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Abstract

In the prosecution of child sexual offences, complainants' accounts are the most important and sometimes the sole evidence. Police organisations around the world have taken steps to ensure that they interview children using evidence-based interview protocols, yet far less attention has been paid to the way children are interviewed in the courtroom. Here, we provide a snapshot of Australian criminal justice professionals' views on the questions posed to child witnesses in court, and on the willingness of judges to intervene when questions are inappropriate. We interviewed judges, prosecutors, defence counsel, and witness assistance officers (N = 43) from four Australian jurisdictions. Participants generally agreed that questioning of child complainants-especially during cross-examination-remained problematic, and that judges did not consistently disallow inappropriate questions. Overall, these professionals did not perceive these problems to stem from a lack of rules and guidelines, but rather from problems implementing them. We consider potential ways forward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-41
Number of pages22
JournalSalus Journal
Volume7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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