The structural linguistic complexity of lawyers' questions and children's responses in Scottish criminal courts
Child Abuse & Neglect
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Andrews, S., & Lamb, M. (2017). The structural linguistic complexity of lawyers' questions and children's responses in Scottish criminal courts. Child Abuse & Neglect, 65 182-193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.01.022
In the first study to systematically assess the structural linguistic complexity of lawyers' questions of children in Scotland, we examined 56 trial transcripts of 5- to 17-year-old children testifying as alleged victims of sexual abuse. Complexity was assessed using 8 quantitative measures of each utterance's components (number of questions, phrases, clauses, sentences, false starts, average word count, word length, and sentence length) and a composite measure was used in the analyses. Lawyers did not alter the complexity of questions when prompting children of different ages. Defense lawyers asked more structurally complex questions than prosecutors. Directive questions were the least structurally complex questions, followed by option-posing questions. Suggestive questions, followed by invitations, were the most structurally complex questions. Option-posing and suggestive questions were more complex when asked by defense lawyers than prosecutors. Of suggestive questions, confrontation and tagged questions were more complex than any other question type. Increased structural complexity led to more unresponsiveness, more expressions of uncertainty, and more self-contradictions regardless of which lawyer asked, the question type, or the children's ages. These findings highlight the additional risks associated with asking some types of questions in structurally complex ways and highlight the need for further innovations (e.g., the use of intermediaries) to facilitate the questioning of vulnerable witnesses in Scottish criminal courts.
child sexual abuse, child witnesses, defense cross- examination, prosecution direct-examination, structural linguistic complexity
This research was supported by an Economic and Social Research Council studentship to Samantha J. Andrews.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.01.022
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/264299
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