The Interaction Between Children's Developmental Capabilities and the Courtroom Environment: The Impact on Testimonial Competency

1. INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the present paper is to highlight current social science research findings in a number of areas relating to childhood development, all of which have been hypothesized to have relevance to children's testimonial abilities. Recent findings pertaining to children's development in cognition, language acquisition, knowledge, emotional resiliency, memory and suggestibility will be reviewed. In order to determine which childhood developmental capabilities are instrumental to children performing as witnesses in court, a review of both international as well as Canadian studies on the general approach of the Criminal Justice System to receiving the testimony of children is offered. Of particular relevance are recent research findings on the experiences of child witnesses in Canadian criminal courts. An overview of the essential expectations that exist of child witnesses in our criminal justice system is provided as a model or 'template' against which the developmental capabilities of child witnesses of different ages are then compared.

The paper offers practical recommendations for professionals working within the Criminal Justice System to improve the quality of evidence offered and the qualitative experience of child complainants in court.

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