Children's unsworn evidence: Historical developments and contemporary issues

Gregor URBAS, Michael Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The reception of children's evidence has long been a topic of contention, historically and in the modern legal world. In cases of sexual assault where a child is the victim, this issue is of fundamental importance as there is often little or no physical evidence, and the child and the accused are the only witnesses. In Australia's fairly recent history, the 'accumulated wisdom' of judicial officers that children are prone to fantasy, suggestible and inherently unreliable has undoubtedly led to many perpetrators escaping conviction as the alleged victim was not deemed competent to give evidence, or the evidence was uncorroborated and there was nothing else to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. However, views regarding the reliability of the evidence of children have significantly progressed in recent times. It is generally now accepted that the view that children are inherently unreliable or a morally incompetent class of witnesses is wrong. This view follows contemporary psychological findings that '[c]hildren from preschool years onward often show sophisticated understanding of the concepts of lying and truth-telling' and that there is 'no correlation between age and honesty'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1392-1421
Number of pages20
JournalThe University of New South Wales law journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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