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NCJ Number: 202690 Find in a Library
Title: Judicial Intervention in Court Cases Involving Witnesses with and Without Learning Disabilities
Journal: Legal and Criminological Psychology  Volume:8  Issue:2  Dated:September 2003  Pages:229-240
Author(s): Caitriona M. E. O'Kelly; Mark R. Kebbell; Chris Hatton; Shane D. Johnson
Date Published: September 2003
Page Count: 12
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Annotation: This paper outlines the extent and nature of judicial interventions in court cases involving witnesses with learning disabilities and from the general population.
Abstract: People with learning disabilities face particular problems giving evidence in court, which has been acknowledged in the countries of England and Wales. England and Wales have proposed provisions of measures for use in court in trials involving vulnerable witnesses. These measures can include: pretrial preparation, friend-in-court schemes, the removal of wigs and gowns, design changes in the architecture of court buildings for mobility purposes, screens, CCTV, frequent breaks, and admission of written depositions. In addition, the judge can have a tremendous impact on lawyers’ questioning styles and witness accuracy. This paper systematically documents the extent and nature of judicial interventions in the questioning of witnesses from the general population and witnesses with learning disabilities. It attempts to determine whether judges made more frequent interventions in the examination of witnesses with learning disabilities, based on these witnesses having greater difficulties with the questioning strategies used by lawyers. It is hypothesized that judicial interventions would be more frequent with witnesses with learning disabilities than for witnesses from the general population. Court transcripts were obtained from a total of 32 witnesses (22=female and 10=male). In addition, 16 transcripts were obtained for trials involving witnesses with learning disabilities, and 16 control cases involving witnesses from the general population were matched with the cases involving witnesses with learning disabilities. Interventions by judges were coded into 3 broad classes, interactions with witnesses, interactions with the lawyer, and interactions with the jury, and 18 specific subcategories. The results indicate that the most frequent interventions made by judges with witnesses concerned clarifying an issue with the witness, asking additional questions concerning issues not mentioned, and asking the witness to speak up because of difficulty in hearing. Less frequent interventions concerned simplifying lawyers’ questions, calling breaks, interpreting the witness’ gestures, and suggesting methods that a witness might use to reply to a question. There were no significant differences in the number of interventions made by the judge with witnesses depending on whether the witness had learning disabilities or was from the general population. The most frequent interventions made by judges to lawyers concerned questioning the lawyer to clarify the witness’ comments. Interventions made by the judge to the jury were rare and consisted of adding additional information and prevention questioning misleading the jury. Overall, the level of judicial intervention to help provide accurate evidence was poor for witnesses with learning disabilities. It is suggested that judges ensure fair questioning that maximizes the likelihood of eliciting accurate evidence and minimizes the likelihood of eliciting inaccurate evidence. References
Main Term(s): Judicial discretion
Index Term(s): England; Evidence collection; Judges; Judicial decisions; Learning disabilities; Offender advocates; Rules of evidence; United Kingdom (UK); Wales; Witness assistance; Witnesses
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