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Children as Eyewitnesses - Research Paper Example

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This study determines to what extent children’s testimony as eyewitnesses can be relied upon, and the precautions taken in legal procedure to ensure the integrity of their testimony. The general law on the treatment and questioning of eyewitnesses discussed to establish the common practice in this legal procedure. …
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Children as Eyewitnesses
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Download file to see previous pages According to the research findings the courtroom is the modern day battlefield. As lay persons, much of our experience with court trials is acquired from television shows and movies. While the actual study of law covers so many topics that may come across as routine and ordinary, such as the law on property and on personal relations, the law that is depicted in primetime media is always dramatic and suspenseful, and always in the field of criminal law. The climactic scenes would always have to do with the cross-examination of the crucial witness whom the clever lawyer would always get to reveal the truth with some masterful techniques in questioning. Courtroom procedure has strict rules which lawyers must follow in questioning witnesses. The obvious purpose is so that witnesses will not be tricked or intimidated into providing a misleading answer, and therefore to ensure that the testimony will lead to the truth. A clean line of questioning is also important in bringing out the whole truth, and not only a portion of it; a good lawyer will apply skill and strategy in tactfully getting the most hostile witness to testify to the truth despite the witness’s efforts to conceal it. Such techniques and procedures are designed for adults, however, and they may not be applicable when the witness to be interrogated is a child. Common knowledge tells us that children are prone to tell the truth as they perceive it, and do not resort to deceptive manoeuvres that adults are used to employing. On the other hand, common observation also tells us that children themselves are easily deceived, that sometimes suggestions by adults or people whom they trust colours their perception of what is true. Under certain circumstances, therefore, it is possible that truthful children may become unreliable eyewitnesses because of circumstances in and out of the courtroom. This study will determine to what extent children’s testimony as eyewitnesses can be re lied upon, and the precautions taken in legal procedure to ensure the integrity of their testimony. The paper will discuss about important elements in child development and psychology in order to understand better the way children think and act in various stages of their development. After that, the general law on the treatment and questioning of eyewitnesses shall be discussed, to establish the common practice in this legal procedure. After discussing the general approach, the special approach of interrogating a child as an eyewitness will be described and analysed. This will entail a comparison with the general approach and a discussion on the points where they differ. The conclusion shall follow thereafter. 2. Child development and psychology 2.1. Stages of child development Children’s minds function differently during different stages of the child’s development. This may well have a bearing on the manner by which children of various ages would be expected to act as witnesses. 2.1.1 Cognitive Development Theories Jean Piaget’s stages of cognitive development teaches that children think differently than adults, in that children play an active role in acquiring knowledge by actively seeking out and constructing their understanding of the world. Children are like scientists who build their theory about how things around them work, and try to interpret things in accordance with their theory, and revising their theory when the new experience does not fit.1 Table 1: Piaget’s Four Stages of Cognitive Development2 Stage Approximate Age Characteristics Sensorimotor Birth to 2 years Infant’s knowledge of the world is based on senses and motor skills; by the end of the period, uses mental representation. Preoperational thought 2 to 6 years Child learns how to use symbols such as words and numbers to represent aspects of the world but relates to the world only through his or her perspective. Concrete operational thought 7 years to early adolescence Child understands and applies logical operators to experiences provided they are focused on the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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