Whether a child’s evidence should be recorded or not should be decided as part of the strategy discussion/meeting. This decision should be recorded on the Record of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting.
Videoed investigative interviews can contribute to care and criminal proceedings. The Home Office Guidance ‘Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses, Including Children” (2001).’ must always be followed when undertaking videoed interviews and interviews must be conducted by those specifically trained in this specialist area of work.
If the child is of sufficient age and understanding, his or her consent should be obtained before any interviews take place. In most circumstances, a person with parental responsibility should be consulted before the interview with the child, and their views listened to. If there is no one with parental responsibility, another permanent carer should be consulted and legal advice sought.
Consideration should be given to the gender of the interviewers, particularly in cases of alleged sexual abuse.
The pace and duration of any interview will depend upon the individual child, his/her age, attention span and specific needs. Interviews should proceed at the pace of the child, not at that of the interviewers. Younger children in particular should only be interviewed for as long as they can sustain attention.
It will usually be wise to explore with a witness who is very young, or who has a learning disability, what his or her understanding is of the difference between truth and lies. Where the statement is admitted in evidence, this would often be of help to the court in assessing the weight to put on the evidence.
In circumstances where the investigating team concludes that it is more appropriate to take a written statement, the interviewer(s) should consider the P.E.A.C.E. model of investigative interviewing advocated by the Association of Chief Police Officers in ‘The Practical Guide to Investigative Interviewing’ (published annually by the National Crime Faculty at Bramshill).
GOOD PRACTICE GUIDANCE:-
Criteria for Video Recording an Interview
Section 21 of the 1999 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act creates three categories of child witness:
i. Children giving evidence in sexual offence cases;
ii. Children giving evidence in cases involving an offence of violence, abduction or neglect; and
iii. Children giving evidence in all other cases.
The Guidance states that video recorded interviews should take place in all category (i) and (ii) child witness cases, unless the child objects, and/or there are insurmountable difficulties which prevent the recording taking place – this may include that the child has been involved in abuse involving video recording or photography.
In all other cases, the decision whether or not to video record an interview should take into account:
- The needs and circumstances of the child (e.g. age, development, impairments, degree of trauma experienced, whether the child is now in a safe environment)
- Whether the interview is likely to maximise the quality of that particular child’s evidence
- The type and severity of offence
- The circumstances of the offence (e.g. relationship of the child to the alleged abuser)
- The child’s state of mind (e.g. likely distress and/or shock)
- Perceived fears about intimidation and recrimination
Given the variety of circumstances applicable in child abuse cases, there are no ‘hard and fast’ rules or unequivocal criteria which apply to the video recording of interviews. Among the considerations to be taken into account before proceeding with any video interview with a child are the following:
- The individual child’s circumstances, current or previous contact with services, previous concerns around parenting, neglect or abuse, and history of the current allegation
- The purpose and likely value of a video recorded interview on this occasion
- Competency, compellability and availability of the child for cross-examination
- The child’s ability and willingness to talk in a formal interview setting
- Preparation of the child before interview.
Planning and Preparation
Thorough planning is essential to a successful investigation and interview. Even if concerns about the child’s safety necessitate an early interview, an appropriate planning session is required which identifies key issues and objectives. Time spent covering and anticipating issues early in the investigation will be rewarded by an improved interview later on.
Wherever possible, and where practicable, older children and young people in particular should be consulted about matters appropriate to their age and understanding, and contribute to the planning and preparation for interview (e.g. when and where the interview takes place, who is present, who conducts the interview). Reasons for the strategy agreed for interviewing a given child should be noted in writing by the investigators concerned and preserved for possible usage in any subsequent legal proceedings.
It may be helpful to the child (and to the process of securing an account) if someone is present to offer support, especially if the child is very young or upset. It is possible that such a person could withdraw once rapport has been established and the child has settled. Parent/carer(s) should not be automatically excluded from this role, but their appropriateness will very much depend on the circumstances and nature of the case, together with any issues arising out of the allegations made by the child. Having a parent or carer close by in another room may be sufficient. Other possibilities to offer support might include a teacher, nursery helper, or other family member.
A child should never be interviewed in the presence of an alleged or suspected perpetrator of abuse, or somebody who may be colluding with a perpetrator, including a parent.
Circumstances where specialist support may be required include:
- The child is very young
- The child does not speak English at a level which enables them to participate in the interview
- The child appears to have a degree of psychiatric disturbance but is deemed competent
- The child has an impairment
- The interviewers do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child’s racial, religious or cultural background
The supporter must not participate in the interview itself, whether by instructing or correcting the child, answering the interviewer’s questions, head nodding or facial expressions and should never offer the child inducements, such as a toy or trip in return for general cooperation or answering particular questions. Persons involved as a witness in the case in any capacity cannot take on the role of witness supporter. This would include a parent to whom the child first disclosed abuse, or a parent whose partner or former partner is the subject of the allegation of abuse.
Research suggests that the presence of a supporter at the time of the interview can actually be an additional source of stress if the child sees them on a daily basis or in a particular relationship (e.g. teacher) and is concerned about them hearing unpleasant or intimate details of their life. For this reason, the views of the child on interview support should be established as part of the planning for the interview
The interview supporter should consider carefully how they may best comfort the particular child, should s/he become distressed. The child should be reassured, but it may not be appropriate to physically touch the child, as this may be perceived as an invasion of personal space or even as abusive by some children.
The child’s non-abusing carer(s) should be provided with information on how to respond to the child/ren during the investigation. For example, they should be discouraged from discussing the details of the child’s allegation with their child or any other individual who may be involved in the investigation, but must be able to reassure the child who wishes to talk or express anxieties. They should be instructed to carefully document any discussions they have with their child or other persons regarding the allegation or investigation (e.g. who was present, date/time and setting, what exactly was said).
The child needs to be prepared for the interview itself. This includes explaining to the child what the interview is, who will be present, when/where it will happen, and for roughly how long, in a manner appropriate to the child’s age and understanding. The details of the abuse should not be discussed with the child outside of the interview as this may be perceived as coaching and invalidate evidence obtained in the investigative interview.
The room decor should be welcoming and friendly, e.g. pictures on the wall which will appeal to children and young people of all ages, races and cultures, and indicate that other children visit the interview suite. Food and drinks provided for comfort breaks should be appropriate for children from different ethnic groups.