Book review: Witness Testimony in Sexual Cases: Evidential, Investigative and Scientific Perspectives

Editors: Pamela Radcliffe, Gisli Gudjonsson CBE, Anthony Heaton-Armstrong and David Wolchover
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2016)
RRP: £59.95
ISBN: 9780199672936

Written for criminal justice professionals working in the field of sexual crime, this book is intended to supplement other authoritative text books on the subject. Its starting point is the recognition that achieving good quality witness testimony underpins the entire criminal justice process and its approach is to incorporate the spectrum of forensic issues relevant to a professional evaluation of a sexual complaint.

Rather than exploring topics sequentially, from complaint to trial, the editors have chosen to separate the law from the science with Part I covering ‘Evidential Perspectives’ and Part II ‘Investigative and Scientific Perspectives’, in an attempt to make navigation of the book easier. Topics, however, are still readily identifiable thus allowing a ‘mix and match’ method of reading if preferred. As one might expect from a book featuring a collection of essays from esteemed academics, practitioners and the judiciary, the writing style is not uniform. Some chapters are written in an informal narrative tone and others more academic in format and tone.

The first half of the book features issues such as prosecuting sexual offences, vulnerable witnesses, disclosure, abuse of process and delay, section 41, bad character, expert evidence and defence advocacy. It also deals with sexual allegations against medical professionals, the role of the family court, international case studies from Canada, New Zealand and South Australia in addition to a chapter on the subject of institutional abuse inquiries.

The second half considers the ‘ABE’ protocol, investigative practice, supporting witnesses, child testimony, forensic science, forensic medicine, clinical signs of abuse in children, medical examination and good practice. In addition there is consideration of mental disorder, three chapters dealing with the topic of memory and a section on pathological lying.

This book treats the subject of witness testimony analytically and holistically. Its content delves deep beyond the day-to-day practice of trial counsel, thus offering insight which allows a review of our approach, understanding and performance. At a time when sexual crime occupies up to a half of crown court trial days, this book is undoubtedly a welcome addition to counsel’s ‘forensic toolkit’.

Reviewer Helen Guest, 4 Breams Buildings

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