Matters of Suggestibility, Memory and Time: Child Witnesses in Court and What Really Happened

Johanna F. Motzkau

Abstract


As a result of an increasing awareness of child abuse over the last few decades, children have been admitted as court witnesses more frequently, yet there has been persistent wariness about the reliability of their testimony. Examining the interaction of legal rationales and paradigms of developmental psychology, it would appear that children are still frequently positioned as deficient and passive witnesses. Three tropes can be distinguished: 1. Children are positioned as unreliable containers of facts. 2. Children have proved to be irritable dispensers of information. 3. Children are volatile interactants. In this paper I will examine how the English legal system employs special measures that are designed to manage children's apparent deficiencies while guaranteeing the accuracy and admissibility of their evidence. My analysis unfolds around the specific case of video recorded evidence. Using courtroom observations and data from interviews with legal professionals, I will follow the trajectory of the video from its planning and recording by the police to its presentation in court. Inspired by the work of Isabelle STENGERS and Bruno LATOUR, and drawing on discourse analytical tools, I will show that the collision of the different time zones of veridicality creates circumstances under which the video itself can become an ambiguous agent and ultimately a fanciful witness.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0701145

Keywords


time zones of veridicality; suggestibility; child witnesses; memory; credibility; sexual abuse; time and discourse

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Copyright (c) 2007 Johanna F. Motzkau

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