The Interaction Between Children's Developmental Capabilities and the Courtroom Environment: The Impact on Testimonial Competency
It would appear from the areas covered in this paper, that more research is required on ways to enhance child witness testimonial performance in the courtroom. Simply recognizing that children are vulnerable participants in the criminal justice system when they testify about childhood victimization is not enough. It is only a first step. One avenue of research that appears timely is the development of a guideline for questioning child witnesses on the stand, one which takes into consideration research findings on children's developmental abilities, their susceptibility to suggestion and their vulnerability to intimidation. This guideline could be evaluated in future as part of a large research study, comparing the testimonial performances of child witnesses who are questioned by counsel using the new guideline, versus those who are questioned by counsel who employ the traditional approach of cross-examination. The impact on court outcome could be examined as well, and further recommendations to improve testimonial competency would be research based.
Another area of research that would be valuable is an assessment of the implementation of existing legislative provisions across the country. To date there are only a few Canadian studies that have been carried out on local population samples. As well, the potential benefit of expanding legislative provisions should be evaluated in light of this practice in other countries. The effectiveness of current professional training for those working in the criminal justice system could also be an area of further evaluation, with a view to examining whether the intended spirit of the law regarding child witnesses is well understood and practiced.
In summary, much has been done to study the developmental capabilities of child witnesses of differing ages, and the impact on their testimonial competency. Not enough research however, has been carried out on the interaction between judges and lawyers and child witnesses in court and the resultant testimonial performances of children. This is an area of research that holds great promise for the future.
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