The competency of children to testify: psychological research informing Canadian law reform

Author(s)Bala, Nicholas; Lee, Kang; Lindsay, R.C.L.; Talwar, Victoria.
Title The competency of  children  to testify: psychological research informing Canadian law reform
Source International Journal of Children's  Rights, Jan2010, Vol. 18 Issue 1, p53-77
Date 2010
Document type Journal Article
Coverage Canada

There are particular challenges in those court processes where children are victims of, or witnesses to, an act subject to prosecution.   One of those challenges concerns how the court can assess whether the child understands the significance of giving truthful evidence.   In the past, many jurisdictions have allowed children to testify only where they have been able to answer conceptual questions about the meaning of 'oath' 'truth' and 'promise.' 

The authors of this research paper were part of the research team of the Child Witness Project in Canada in 1999.   They seek to examine whether the legal test then in use in Canada for assessing the capacity of child witnesses, was a reliable predictor of truth telling behaviours.   The research suggests that a child's capacity to understand that lying is 'bad' actually had little if any impact on the likelihood of the child telling the truth.     

Keywords Children; family violence; witness; court