Cross-examination of children and young people at court

By Nuffield Foundation

Could new best practice guidance on the cross-examination of children and young people at court help prevent more young people from the experience of those in the Telford abuse case?

The treatment of young witnesses in criminal proceedings has been in the news following the release of details about a trial held at Stafford Crown Court in 2011 in which seven men were accused of systematic sexual abuse of a group of young girls.

One witness spent 12 days under cross examination by a succession of defence lawyers. There were reports of one defence counsel shouting abuse at a witness and of jurors being visibly disgusted by the treatment of witnesses.

The trial collapsed after four months. Six of the seven accused were found guilty of 31 offences at a series of re-trials.

Training in appropriate questioning of young witnesses

The issue of appropriate training for the legal profession has featured in the debates surrounding the case. The Nuffield Foundation has funded work in this area and, in the last month, a new website has been launched to provide evidence-based toolkits for lawyers and judges, including on best practice in the cross-examination of children and young people at court. The toolkits were developed by Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson, drawing on their earlier research funded by the Nuffield Foundation and NSPCC.

The toolkits are available at www.theadvocatesgateway.org. Some judges already require advocates to read the relevant toolkit before questioning a witness.

The Gateway website is hosted by the Advocacy Training Council and is supported by the legal professions (Criminal Bar Association, Law Society, Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Crown Prosecution Service), the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial College.

A central part of the toolkit guidance is that, before questioning starts, ground rules must be discussed about how to adapt questioning to the witness’s communication abilities. The judge may decide that an advocate should not ‘put his case’ directly to the witness and instead allow alternative methods to explain challenges to the witness’s evidence to the jury.

Accusations of lying

The guidance also explains that:

‘Being accused of lying particularly if repeated, may cause the witness to give inaccurate answers or to agree simply to bring questioning to an end. If such a challenge is essential, it should be addressed separately, in simple language, at the end of cross-examination. Repeated assertions to a young or vulnerable witness that (s)he is lying are likely to cause the witness serious distress. They do not serve any proper evidential purpose and should not be permitted by the judge’.

Training film

These departures from conventional cross-examination are the subject of A Question of Practice, a training film introduced by the Lord Chief Justice and launched jointly with the Advocate’s Gateway website on 26 April. The film is a joint project of the Criminal Bar Association, CPS, Advocacy Training Council and the NSPCC; the Nuffield Foundation contributed to the planning stages.

Comments on the toolkits include: ‘succinct and extremely helpful guidance’ (The Rt Hon. Lady Justice Hallett DBE, Chairman of the Judicial College); ‘very high quality material drafted by well-known experts’ (HHJ Phillips, Director, Judicial College); ‘Being able to ask advocates to look at the appropriate toolkit will be an enormous help’ (HHJ Rook QC); and ‘Brilliant… an absolutely essential resource’ (Richard Atkinson, chair, Law Society Criminal Law Committee).

Related


By Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
Older-man-reads-textbook-Assembling-data-jigsaw-Greater-Manchester-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

Assembling the data jigsaw: powering robust population research in MSK disease

View project
Medical-professional-massages-patient-knee-Understanding-joint-replacement-surgery-decision-making-for-older-patients-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

View project
Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Female-nurse-sees-patient-in-office-Integrating-enriched-longitudinal-data-North-Staffordshire-Stoke-on-Trent-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2025

Enriched data integration for population musculoskeletal health intelligence

View project
Older-man-and-woman-walk-together-Geographical-mapping-prevalence-outcomes-MSK-conditions-Wales-Scotland-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

View project
Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
Serious-teenage-girl-gestures-as-sits-on-couch-in-school-counselor-office-Mental-health-service-provision-for-children-state-care-England-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Mental health service provision for children in state care in England

View project
New

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

View project
Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
Older-man-reads-textbook-Assembling-data-jigsaw-Greater-Manchester-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

Assembling the data jigsaw: powering robust population research in MSK disease

View project
Medical-professional-massages-patient-knee-Understanding-joint-replacement-surgery-decision-making-for-older-patients-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

View project
Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Female-nurse-sees-patient-in-office-Integrating-enriched-longitudinal-data-North-Staffordshire-Stoke-on-Trent-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2025

Enriched data integration for population musculoskeletal health intelligence

View project
Older-man-and-woman-walk-together-Geographical-mapping-prevalence-outcomes-MSK-conditions-Wales-Scotland-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2019 - 2020

Valuing data: foundations for data policy

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2019 - 2020

Revaluation and reform: bringing council tax into the 21st century

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Atlas of inequality: understanding the local nature of a global phenomenon

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Interdisciplinary conference on evidence use in policy

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Overview of the major ethical issues arising from data, algorithms and AI

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Council tax support schemes’ impact on claimants & local authorities

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Pathways of incarcerated children in care

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Improving survey representation of non-resident parents

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Visualising data in care proceedings

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

Growing up digital

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Addressing the ‘care cases’ crisis: a sector-led review

View project
Reported

Justice | 2017 - 2019

Immigration judicial reviews

View project
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

Profile

COVID-19 response

Nuffield-funded social scientists are conducting COVID-19 research in real-time, to capture people’s experiences of the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic.