Matters of Suggestibility, Memory and Time: Child Witnesses in Court and what really happened

Motzkau, Johanna F. (2007). Matters of Suggestibility, Memory and Time: Child Witnesses in Court and what really happened. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 8(1, Art)



As a result of an increasing awareness of child sexual 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 various special measures that are designed to comfort children's assumed needs in order to enable them to give the most detailed evidence possible while guaranteeing the admissibility of the way in which the evidence is gathered and presented in court. Taking a closer look at the concrete practice I will argue that special measures such as video recorded evidence or closed circuit television links relate to, mediate and create different time zones of veridicality. Hence as such these well intended mediators of children's voice develop their own ambiguous dynamic when they operate and perform at the different stages of the legal procedure and thereby resonate with varying assumptions about how material presences and absences, temporal immediacy or mediatedness bolster or discredit the credibility of a piece of evidence.
My analysis will unfold 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.

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