find the latest legal job
Senior Associate - Litigation & Dispute Resolution
Category: Litigation and Dispute Resolution | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Come work for a firm ranked in Lawyers Weekly Top 25 Attraction Firms
View details
Associate - Workplace Relations & Safety
Category: Industrial Relations and Employment Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Employer of choice · Strong team culture
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: All Perth WA
· Freelance opportunities through Vario from Pinsent Masons
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Adelaide SA
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Amateur ‘experts’ rule in child sex cases

Amateur ‘experts’ rule in child sex cases

Federal magistrates and judges are heavily reliant on inadequate ‘expert evidence’ to determine whether a finding of sexual abuse should be made, it has been claimed.

Federal magistrate Matthew Myers said today (March 20) that the methods by which experts provide opinion on the risk of child sex abuse fail to deliver evidence that is of a consistently high quality.

“Those delivering ‘expert evidence’ in Australian Family and Federal Magistrates Courts rarely have the training, knowledge and skills needed to do this type of work adequately,” said Myers, speaking at the 6th World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights in Sydney, which concludes tonight.

Presenting his paper as part of a session entitled ‘Evaluating Sexual Abuse Allegations in the Family Court’, Myers explained how young victims’ evidence can easily be misunderstood or contaminated through the use of inappropriate interview techniques and repeated questioning.

Since children are not permitted to provide evidence directly as witnesses in Family Court or Federal Magistrate Court proceedings, experts are heavily relied upon to interview the child and the alleged perpetrator to determine whether there is an “unacceptable risk” of abuse to the child.

“No formal Australian guidelines exist to define how experts should conduct such interviews, the types of tests and questions that should be or should not be used or the age limits within which they are meaningful,” said Myers, adding that a child’s capacity to remember and report events accurately varies considerably.

Research shows that open-ended questioning is most effective in eliciting accurate responses, while suggestive, specific, delayed and repetitive questioning can contaminate a child’s episodic memory, especially if they are very young.

Therapeutic interview skills are inappropriate from an investigative perspective, but standard interrogation skills are inappropriate for interviewing small children, said Myers, who called for specific credentialing of forensic psychologists and a standard set of practice guidelines.

Judge David Harris QC from Liverpool offered an English perspective on the deficiencies of evidence management during the session.

He said there was a growing recognition of the need for more careful questioning and better control by judiciary.

“There are criticisms about the tactics of barristers and deliberate confusion or repression of children,” Harris told Lawyers Weekly.

“I can’t say I regard the system as entirely fit for its purpose and it won’t be so until … there is much more consistency in an understanding of child development [and] age appropriate questioning of a child.”

There is often no material evidence or witnesses to the alleged abuse, and even when appropriate interview questions and techniques are employed, experts can lose neutrality by becoming professionally or emotionally aligned with one side of a dispute, claimed Myers.

It is therefore important that experts disclose to the court their methods, assumptions and research underpinnings, he added.

Myers also suggested the establishment of an expert panel to give the courts a larger pool of experts to draw upon, which would mean shorter waiting times, reduced cost, and safer and fairer outcomes for both children and accused parents.

Manchester-base Judge Maureen Roddy spoke together with Harris, following Myers’ presentation.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Amateur ‘experts’ rule in child sex cases
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Scales of Justice
06:04
‘Ego status’ compelled ex-lawyer to defraud $2.97M, court told
Debarred lawyer John Gordon Bradfield told a NSW District Court that he was driven by “ego status...
Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), Queensland’s new industrial manslaughter legislation,
06:03
ALA welcomes ‘tough’ Qld manslaughter laws
The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has welcomed Queensland’s new industrial manslaughter legisl...
Legal podcasts, tune in, microphone
06:00
Legal podcasts you have to tune in to right now
The rise of the internet has hailed in a new dawn for storytelling. Here’s our top pick of podcast...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...