Court Preparation

AuthorLoree Armstrong Beniuk, Jo-Anne Hughes, and Jack Reynolds
Court Preparation
Children require extensive preparation to be eective witnesses. By way of illus-
tration, in one of my earliest cases involving a child witness in an abuse case, I had
scheduled a meeting with the child, who was nine years old, prior to the preliminary
hearing, expecting the interview to be no dierent than one with an adult where
similar oences were alleged. A police ocer was in attendance and everyone
seemed comfortable, including the child, who insisted on wearing her coat. I began
with the usual introductory questions and the child responded, at times cheerfully,
or at least promptly. However, when asked to relate what had happened, the child
suddenly sank down in her chair and covered her head with her coat. Despite a great
deal of urging over the next few minutes, she refused to re-emerge or to utter a
sound. at was the end of the interview. She le the building with her head still
buried under her coat without saying another word to anyone.
In the weeks that followed I learned about the important rst stages of preparing
a child witness. I learned that before reviewing the evidence and advising the child
about being a witness, the child needs to understand what is happening around him
or her, to feel comfortable in the surroundings, and to feel reassured that no one will
hurt him or her. I asked my witness to come to court aer hours to meet and talk with
court sta. I met with the child and we played monopoly, all the while avoiding any
mention of the criminal allegations. During our third meeting, while playing scrabble
in the Crown Attorney’s library, she asked me: “Can I tell you what happened now?”
Subsequently Toronto developed a very comprehensive victim witness support
—Anna Maleswzy, Crimes Against Children
Court preparation and court accompaniment lie at the heart of the sup-
port needed to reduce the potential traumatizing ef‌fects for young
witnesses in the criminal justice system, to familiarize and increase their
understanding about their role in court, and to recommend specif‌ic accom-
modations that recognize the special needs of child witnesses. This chapter
provides an extensive list of procedures and tools. Although they will not
all be universally applicable, they are nonetheless vitally important. It is
essential that child witness caseworkers and Crown Aorneys are know-
ledgeable, well trained, and very skilled at doing this work in a way that is
age appropriate, establishes much-needed rapport, minimizes stress for the
child, and enables them to do their job in court.
When a maer has been scheduled for trial, a child witness program
caseworker will meet with the child (and supportive caregiver if the child
wishes) to educate them about the court experience. Every child’s needs
must be assessed individually, and court preparation work must be custom-
ized according to those needs. Depending on the age of the child, several
court preparation sessions may be needed. With younger children, an initial
meeting may serve only to get acquainted and build rapport, with a second
meeting involving a more in-depth talk about court and the child’s role, and
a third meeting devoted to a tour of a courtroom. The aim is to build trust
and avoid overwhelming children.
Children need a safe opportunity to learn about court procedures and
discuss any fears or concerns. While it is not uncommon for a caregiver to
sit in on the court preparation session, the caseworker should ask them to
leave if the child wishes them to, if the child is looking to them for answers,
or if a caregiver is jumping in with answers for the child. Otherwise, since
there is no evidence discussed in the court preparation meeting, there is
usually no reason to exclude them. In fact, if they are also being called as a
witness, they may f‌ind the information quite helpful for their own witness
The court preparation sessions normally take place one to four weeks
before the court date. The caseworker typically does not know the evidence
of the case and absolutely must not discuss the evidence with the child. The
session is usually scheduled before an appointment is made for the child
with the Crown Aorney. The dif‌ferentiation between the Crown Aorney
and the witness preparation caseworker will be made clear to the child.

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