The judicial officer and the child witness

This is a specialised training course for judges and magistrates presiding over cases involving the testimony of child witnesses. The course content pays particular attention to child victims of sexual crimes.

Target audience

The course is specifically designed for judicial officers. It aims to provide these role-players with the skills to preside effectively over cases involving child witnesses and evaluate their evidence effectively.

Course content

The course includes the following topics:

An Introduction to Child Development

Participants are introduced to issues relating to child development that are applicable to the child witness, including, cognitive development and socio-emotional development. Participants are provided with actual court transcripts in order for them to identify the developmental difficulties children face in court.


This topic deals with the capacity of children’s memory and addresses questions relating to whether a child’s memory is as good as that of an adult, whether a child’s memory is reliable and what factors impact on memory. A practical case study is included in the session.

The Effects of the Accusatorial System

Testifying in court is often a very stressful experience and there are a number of factors in the criminal justice process that give rise to this stress. This presentation examines the factors that create particular difficulties for children in the criminal justice process as well as the available research on the stress experienced by children.


Disclosing abuse is a process and this presentation focuses on the different stages of disclosure, highlighting issues relating to recantation and delayed disclosure.

The Impact of Childhood Trauma

Child abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual has a severe impact on its victim. This presentation examines the effect which abuse has on children and methods of assessing trauma.

Online Sexual Offending

Online sexual offending takes many forms and this unit will examine the various forms this offence takes, including the possession and distribution of child pornography, the production of child pornography, sexual solicitations, and conspiracy crimes.

Communicating with Children in a Forensic Environment

The focus of this topic is on equipping the participants with the skills to communicate with children and understand child language with special emphasis on language miscommunication that arises in the forensic context.

Competency to Testify

This session will highlight the issues involved in determining the competency of child witnesses and enable participants to understand the implications of age on the competency requirements. The test for competency and its application will be explained and alternative tests for competency will also be introduced.

Fact and Fantasy

This presentation will introduce the participants to the available research on whether children tend to fantasise about abuse. Participants will be exposed to research relating to the source of the belief that children are prone to fantasy and will be introduced to modern research available on false memory in children. The session will also focus on sources of false memory and the available research on whether children fantasise about abuse.

False Allegations

This unit will provide the participants with an understanding of the concept of lying when dealing with young children, as well as the factors that foster lying. Participants will be presented with the differing approaches of law and psychology to false allegations by children as well as the conditions that foster lying, including false allegations in custody disputes.

Detecting Deception in Children

This unit will provide the participant with skills to assist them in detecting deception in children. Participants will be provided with information that they can use to analyze traditional signs of detecting lies, understand the judgment errors people make when detecting lies, utilize a developmental model to assist them when attempting to detect lies; and utilize the criteria of statement validity analysis when attempting to detect lies.

Judicial Management

This presentation focuses on the necessity for judicial management in cases involving child witnesses. It explains the need for judicial management incases involving child witnesses, and explores the concept of judicial discretion. Guidelines on judicial management are also provided.

Sex Offenders

Understanding sex offenders who target children is a complex issue. In order to understand the sex offender, it is necessary to have some knowledge of child sexual development. Research has identified various typologies which will be discussed here. Attention is paid to how sex offenders target and groom children with reference to theories and case studies.


The course is presented over a four-and-a-half day period from 08H30 until 17H00, and 13H00 on the final day. Each participant receives a training course file containing the course content, which is divided according to the topics covered on each day. In addition, each participant receives a resource book entitled 'The Judicial Officer and the Child Witness'.

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