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26 SEP 2011

Children giving evidence through special measures in the criminal courts: progress and problems [2009] CFLQ 65

This article is drawn from a programme of ethnographic observation and interview-based research carried out at magistrates' and Crown Court trials in the north of England. The goal of the paper is to investigate how video links and pre-recorded examination-in-chief have been applied in practice to child witnesses giving evidence. The argument will be made that children are given little say over whether they give evidence through such ‘special measures', despite the possible negative implications of doing so. It is argued that this situation arises first from an absence of proper mechanisms to establish the views of the child (engendered by statutory limitations) and, secondly, from the routine working practices of prosecutors in particular, which tend to exclude any consideration for the views of children. Questions will be raised as to whether the proposals set out in the Government's Improving the Criminal Trial Process for Young Witnesses consultation paper will adequately address such problems. The paper concludes by noting that this situation fails to address the child's need to construct a full and uninhibited account during the evidential process and is ultimately of little benefit to the child or the system.

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