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How Young is Too Young?: The Evidence of Children Under Five in the English Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Child Abuse Review Volume: 22 Issue: 6 Dated: November-December 2013 Pages: 432-445
Ruth Marchant
Date Published
December 2013
14 pages
This study examined child witnesses under the age of 5 in English courts.
Perceptions of children's competence as witnesses have shifted repeatedly in the last few decades. Recent international research confirms that very young children can provide reliable descriptions of past events when properly interviewed. In England, the legislative foundations are now in place to enable the evidence of very young children to be heard and tested: clear guidance is available for interviewing teams, prosecutors and advocates, and the judiciary. Yet practice with very young children is erratic across England, both at investigation and at trial. Many practitioners do not feel confident to interview or cross-examine very young children and in some areas children under age 5 are not interviewed at all. Very few under age 5 give evidence in English courts, although this is beginning to change. This paper briefly summarizes recent research and current guidance and explores the reasons for variability in practice. A range of practical strategies are suggested to enable very young children to give their best evidence. These strategies link the research base to the author's direct involvement as a registered witness intermediary in more than 70 investigative interviews and criminal trials with children aged 2 to 5. Abstract published by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons.