4.2.1 - Charge: Child Witnesses (s44N direction)

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This direction should be given before a child witness gives evidence, if it is identified that the reliability or credibility of a child witness is likely to be in issue.

This direction is drafted to be given just before the child gives evidence. If it is given at any other time, it must be modified accordingly.

Members of the jury, before NOW gives evidence, there are some general matters I must tell you, to help you assess NOW’s evidence. Some of you may know these matters from your own experiences with children. But for others, some of these ideas may be new.

First, children can accurately remember and report past events.

Second, the language and mental skills of children develop as they get older. This may affect whether a child can give a detailed or complete account and whether their accounts correctly record the order in which different events occurred.

Third, children’s language and mental skills also affect how they understand and respond to questions.

Experience shows that a child’s level of development affects whether they have difficulty understanding certain words or phrases. These may be words or phrases that are hard for everyone to understand, or are only hard for children.

For example, some children have difficulty understanding hypothetical questions, repetitive questions, multi-part questions and questions that require a single yes or no answer. Some children also have difficulty with questions or statements that use negatives and double negatives.

A child’s level of development also affects whether the child understands certain concepts. These can be concepts that are difficult for everyone, or concepts that are only difficult for children.

For example, experience shows that children often have difficulty with concepts that involving comparing two things, such as time, duration, measurement or frequency.

Because of a child’s level of development, they may not ask someone to clarify a question they do not understand and may not clarify an answer which has been misunderstood.

You should take these directions into account when you are listening to NOW giving evidence, and when you are assessing NOW’s credibility and reliability.

Last updated: 29 October 2018

See Also

4.2 - Child Witnesses