People with learning disabilities as witnesses in court: What questions should lawyers ask?
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People with learning disabilities (LDs) are likely to be at greater risk of having crimes committed against them, and testimony from witnesses with LDs is likely to be crucial when many of these crimes are prosecuted. The present authors analysed the transcripts of 16 court cases involving witnesses with LDs and 16 matched court cases involving witnesses without LDs. On the basis of this information and previous research, they discuss three issues: (1) the strengths and vulnerabilities of people with LDs as witnesses in court; (2) the kinds of questioning used by lawyers in courtrooms which can cause problems for witnesses with LDs; and (3) guidance for practitioners concerning alerting the judge to their role in preventing constraining and coercive lawyer questioning in court. The authors conclude that many people with LDs can be competent witnesses in court, but that hostile lawyers in particular use constraining and coercive questioning strategies which have a particularly negative impact on the testimony of witnesses with LDs. Judges should be informed of appropriate and inappropriate lawyer questioning strategies in advance of trials to enable them to effectively manage the questioning of lawyers in the courtroom.
British Journal of Learning Disabilities