court, Criminal Defence, law

helping child witnesses




Communications experts use an array of dolls & toys to help vulnerable children give evidence when interviewed by police & at trial. An example is a hand-knitted police doll & a judge (UK). This article Helping child witnesses: ‘One girl gave evidence with a hamster on her lap in the UK setting helps to explain:

In the playroom, perched high above suburban rooftops, it feels as if you’re sailing in a sturdy little boat. Outside, beyond the fields, the sea is a strip of hazy grey-blue that glows silver where it meets the sky. Here on the floor is the scattered residue of a child at play: plastic tractors and fire engines spilling from a big red box, half-done puzzles, doll’s house furniture left awry. On a shelf sit the smiling knitted figures of a policeman and circuit judge, the details meticulously rendered, right down to the judge’s red sash and purple-trimmed robes.


In the 🇬🇧 UK, as in 🇦🇺 Australia, getting children’s evidence early is critical.  According to the above article, there is a shortage of people, intermediaries, trained in children’s communication in the UK legal setting, a dilemma for police wanting to get children’s evidence before their memories fade. Seems that, in the UK, training for police in forensic interviewing of children, is unusual & instead directed to trained intermediaries.



The policeman/bobby, a Jean Greenhowe design


SA Police bear dolly





In South Australia this area of law & behaviour comes under the Summary offences Act 1953 (SA) s 74EA(1)]:

Children, vulnerable witnesses, can be the victim of crime, or see & hear something about a crime that can make them a witness in a court case. Because children are at risk of being lead or influenced when giving evidence, there are rules to guide them through the process, & to make sure they are not traumatized.

A vulnerable witness is a child of or under the age of 14 years or a person with a disability that adversely affects the person’s capacity to give a coherent account of their experiences & answer questions rationally.

When a vulnerable witness is being interviewed as a witness to a serious offence against the person (such as murder, manslaughter, criminal neglect, a sexual offence, abduction, blackmail, unlawful threats to kill, and some other offences) police have several obligations. There is an obligation to make an audio visual recording of the interview. The interview also must be conducted by a prescribed interviewer which includes:

– people who have been authorised by the Commissioner of Police or the Attorney General to conduct these interviews; or

– who have been authorised under another State, Territory or Commonwealth law to conduct interviews with vulnerable witnesses; or

– who have completed an approved training course in conducting interviews with vulnerable witnesses

If the interviewer believes a witness may have complex communication needs, they must make the following arrangements as relevant:

*- for the witness to be accompanied during the interview by a person who is a prescribed communication assistant  A prescribed communication assistant is a person who provides assistance to suspects or vulnerable witnesses while being interviewed & includes communication partner within the meaning of s4 of the Evidence Act (SA) & any other person approved for the purposes of the interview by the interviewer.

*- for the witness to use, or be provided with, a prescribed communication device for the purposes of the interview.

Prescribed communication partners

From 1 March 2020, a prescribed communication partner may include a person from the following classes

  • Speech pathologists with Certified Practising Speech Pathologist membership of Speech Pathology Australia;
  • Registered occupational therapists;
  • Psychologists with general registration status with the Psychology Board of Australia; and
  • Developmental educators with full membership of Developmental Educators Australia Incorporated.

In addition to holding the relevant qualifications, the person must have a minimum of five years’ relevant experience working with people with complex communication needs & must have agreed in writing to comply with the relevant Code of Conduct.


Leave a Reply