Asked and Answered:
Questioning Children in the Courtroom

[7-480] Article

R Zajac, J Gross and H Hayne, “Asked and Answered: Questioning Children in the Courtroom” (2003) 10(1) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 109.


This article provides a discussion on the effect that different interviewing techniques can have on child witnesses by examining both the language used by defence lawyers when cross examining children and the responses of the children to this style of questioning. Court transcripts are analysed in which children five to 13 years provided key evidence in sexual abuse trials and a coding scheme for questions and answers is applied to further understand the impact questioning techniques have on a child’s testimony.

Consistent with past research, defence lawyers conducting cross-examination asked a higher proportion of complex, grammatically confusing, credibility challenging, leading and closed questions than prosecution lawyers. Children exhibited high rates of misunderstanding and compliance. Child witnesses in responding to defence lawyers rarely asked for clarification and often attempted to answer questions that were ambiguous or did not make sense. Over 75 per cent of children changed at least one aspect of their testimony during the cross-examination process.

Children’s responses depend largely on the type of questions asked and not the lawyers posing them. It is suggested that cross-examination can be made more appropriate for children merely by changing the types of questions deployed.


Acknowledgment: this article was first published in full in the (2003) 10(1) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 109. Reproduced with permission.