Questioning Child Witnesses

Children are increasingly being asked to give live evidence in family proceedings, says the Family Justice Council (FJC).


In December, an FJC working party, chaired by Lord Justice Thorpe, published new guidelines on children’s evidence.

The working party was set up following a referral to the Supreme Court from the Court of Appeal in the case of Re W (children) (abuse: oral evidence), which considered the issue of children’s evidence. In March 2010, the Supreme Court removed the presumption that only in exceptional cases should a child be called to give live evidence in family proceedings (Re W [2010] UKSC 12).

The working party says its research suggests the number of applications for children to give evidence may have increased since the ruling.

Its guidelines provide points to be taken into consideration by the court when deciding whether a child should be asked to give live evidence, and a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for lawyers questioning children.

It emphasises that the court should “consider seriously” alternatives to the child appearing at a hearing, and points out that hearsay evidence is admissible in family proceedings. It advises that all advocates have a responsibility to manage the questioning of a child witness fairly, but that ultimate responsibility rests with the tribunal.

It states: “It should set out its expectations of the advocates and make it clear to the child witness that they can indicate to the court if they feel they are not saying what they want to say or do not understand what is being said to them.”
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