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

  • Johanna F. Motzkau The Open University
Keywords: time zones of veridicality, suggestibility, child witnesses, memory, credibility, sexual abuse, time and discourse

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

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Author Biography

Johanna F. Motzkau, The Open University
Johanna MOTZKAU (Dipl. Psych. Diplom at Freie Universität Berlin) is Lecturer in Psychology at the Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, UK. She has a background in philosophy, German Kritische Psychologie, theoretical psychology, developmental psychology and forensic psychology. She is interested in epistemological and methodological issues in psychology, post-structuralist philosophy, critical developmental psychology, issues of children's rights, child sexual abuse and the way in which psychological knowledge is used by the law. Previous work has drawn on the writings of G. DELEUZE to examine the "language of deconstruction". More recent interests include memory, suggestibility and credibility. Current work has looked at the history and theory of suggestibility research in relation to child witness practice in England and Germany (PhD thesis at Loughborough University "Cross-examining Suggestibility: Memory, Childhood, Expertise", submitted 2006).
Published
2007-01-31
Section
Thematic Issue