As part of court reform on child sexual assault, the Child Sexual Assault Jurisdiction was established in 2003. It was created as part of the recommendation by a comprehensive report on persecutions for this crime. The Specialist Jurisdiction had several aims, including reducing delays, improving the court environment, and overall betterment of the process of presenting evidence and witness testimony in child assault cases that is fair to both, the complainant and defendant.
Some of the innovative measures introduced to the process were the use of technologies that allowed for the remote collection of witness testimony from children. These included taped interviews which were added to the general evidence as well as the possibility of live video interviews through the use of closed-circuit television networks.1 Based on this evidence, jurors were expected to assess and determine the responsibility and verdict on any given case that is presented before them.
The article Child sexual assault trials: A survey of juror perceptions by Judy Cashmore and Lily Trimboli has the primary purpose of exploring jurors’ perceptions of these innovative measures. This includes investigating attitudes toward the intentions of such standards, fairness towards both complainants and defendants, as well as perceptions of the child.2 Jurors’ opinions of the child may be significantly affected by the new methods, altering judgments on credibility or emotional impact since video testimony may reduce the impactful connection of having a victim in a court setting.
Ultimately, this research topic is important because limited information exists on the issue with few studies conducted on jurors due to the legal and ethical difficulties of doing so. It is critical to determine the concepts of juror bias and determine the logic of decision-making to evaluate how the innovative measures impact the trial process.
Addition To Literature
The article does not directly address any theoretical concepts in its research. However, it does present several aspects which can be used in the context of the legal theory. It briefly discusses the concept of unconscious (implicit) bias that a juror may have in receiving testimony from a child witness. Implicit bias is based on social science and psychology, as well as social judgeability theory. The phenomenon of social judgeability causes individuals to form perceptions of a person (such as a witness) based on the type and amount of individuating information presented as well as social rules existing on when it is appropriate to offer judgment.
Any opinion is formulated in consistency with stereotypes, and jurors may be operating under the condition that they are aware of specific information about a person. However, in fact, they are only aware of general personality types and socio-economic behavior, leading them to arrive at stereotypical conclusions based on implicit biases.3 This is especially critical in instances of video testimony, where jurors are only able to formulate perceptions based on a limited set of questions.
Knowledge In The Field
In the early 2000’s, many developed countries began to introduce a system of pre-recorded video and closer circuit television testimony into their court systems. It was supported by the belief that traditional cross-examination was neither reliable or safe for child witnesses that could face negative mental effects in an already delicate situation.4 The article notes that at the time of its publication in 2006, research findings on the topic were limited and mixed. Furthermore, practically every study on the topic was done in laboratory settings with simulated juries, rather than real-world cases.
The study found that consistent with previous studies, jurors understood and accepted the use of technology in such cases, but nearly a third experienced issues with clearly seeing or hearing the testimony. Furthermore, the study contributed significant data on the factors that jurors use to predict witness reliability and the association of fairness, use of technology, and verdict outcomes. Finally, it was determined that both subjective and empirical evidence suggests that the use of CCTV technology is helpful in reducing a child’s stress levels, thus increasing the reliability of evidence and narrative.5
Policy and Practice Implications
The article aims to reaffirm the innovative measures introduced into practice as part of the NSW Legislative Council recommendations. The study confirms that the Child Sexual Assault Specialist Jurisdiction is a competent decision for legal practice in its aims to optimize the testimony process, improve the court environment, and reduce anxiety in child complainants. There are no recommendations made on changes to practice or policy.
The primary research question of the study sought to determine whether special measures in the form of pre-recorded video or CCTV testimony had an impact on jurors’ perceptions of the child complainant and trial process.
This included the use of technology, its necessity, purpose, and reliability in the court process. Furthermore, jurors’ attitudes towards the child were examined in terms of confidence, consistency, and credibility based on a wide range of factors. Also, the researchers wanted to determine how these factors were associated with verdict outcomes. Researchers wanted to identify the jurors’ experiences with the judge and being on a case using such technology. Finally, the fairness of court treatment for both child complainants and defendants was evaluated.
The research questions and parameters established by the researchers in this study were broad and comprehensive. Practically every aspect related to juror perceptions and court processes regarding out-of-court child testimony was covered.
This is a positive aspect of a comprehensive study seeking to evaluate legal recommendations and a court-mandated practice. However, it may also create limitations since researchers could not focus on a specific factor of the technology used in court. The authors do not clearly outline their research questions at the beginning of the article, making a short statement on its aims without going into detail. The audience becomes aware of the wide scope of research parameters only as data and conclusions are presented.
The study used a survey methodology for its research, providing jurors with a short and structured questionnaire at the end of sexual assault trials. Jurors were encouraged to participate by the judge and provided with information regarding the purpose of the trial. The participants were notified that the study was approved by the Attorney-General and therefore legally allowed to disclose information about the jury process.
The voluntary and confidential nature of the research was emphasized. Most questionnaires were completed in the jury deliberation room with court officers present. However, some took surveys home to be mailed in later. The methodological structure of the study is consistent, as researchers provide data and conclusions that match initial research questions. The structure is logical and presents a clear step-by-step process which could be repeated. One concern is that the survey questions are not provided, even in the form of an appendix. The study contributes significantly to its field, presenting supporting evidence and opening new frontiers on the topic of out-of-court testimony in child sexual assault cases.
Data was collected through a survey instrument which was a questionnaire with 53 questions. These were split into four distinct sections based on the topics of the study including reactions and understanding, presentation, perceptions, and demographic characteristics. Over 277 jurors from 25 jury panels completed the survey, resulting in an average of 92.3% response rate.6 A survey questionnaire is a reliable method of data collection in this aspect, as it allows to gauge qualitative factors such perception and judgment of fairness while collecting quantitative data in terms of statistics and rate of responses.
The inclusion of the demographic section allows to determine the representativeness of the sample based upon Australian population. The survey is designed with both content and convergent validity in mind. It covers a wide range of contexts while allowing a degree of comparison which the researchers later used to draw conclusions.
Descriptive percentages of jurors’ ratings were determined based on the survey question responses. The sampling units consisted of juries as a whole rather than individual jurors. The clustering was taken into account in the analysis by adjusting 95 percent confidence intervals. In questions, where the jury was the unit of analysis, and the clustering issue was avoided, ratings were compared via a matched-paired t-test. Furthermore, associations were quantified through Spearman’s correlation coefficient. For juror-level predictor variables, survey regression procedures were followed.7 These are standard data analysis procedures for a survey methodology.
The only concern is that they are significantly generalized and lack more concrete detail in terms of statistical analysis. The researchers took into account the clustering aspect of responses and appropriately adjusted confidence intervals when relevant, providing validity to the quantitative results. A large enough percentage of the sample participated to ensure that the findings held statistically significant value.
Findings And Conclusions
Findings revealed both positive and negative aspects of the use of technology for out-of-court testimony. Negative aspects included issues with the quality of video and audio, as well as a lack of dynamic questioning (as would occur during cross-examination) that could provide additional details. A child was easily distracted, the questioning was not always thorough, and the flow of the interview was disrupted.
However, positive aspects include the ability to repeatedly watch the testimony, in case, details were missing. Furthermore, if questioning occurred during the initial stages of the crime, details were more consistent rather than a traditional court hearing that could occur up to a year after the incident took place. Most jurors thought that the child’s understanding and confidence in answering questions was good, with minimum stress level and fair consistency.
Fairness of treatment for both the child and defendant was evaluated as very good, as appropriate respect and courtesy were shown during the trial and questioning. Overall, the understanding and response of the jurors was positive, with the majority showing agreement with the verdict and felt that teamwork contributed to reaching a fair outcome for the trial.
The findings and conclusions were supported by collected data, both quantitative and qualitative. Researchers provided statistics and percentages on various aspects of the research while supporting it with a selection of quotes from jurors if the context was relevant. This combination of quantitative and qualitative presentation of findings provides strong credibility to the study and establishes solid conclusions for the experiment’s purpose.
Most of the study’s findings were consistent with previous research on the topic. However, certain aspects such as factors associated with witness credibility and outcome differed significantly. Primarily, the focus on consistency of children’s testimonies is flawed, since children tend to reliably remember events rather than details. However, lack of consistency in details is often used by the defense to discredit the testimony as evidence.
Ethical Issues And Limitations
Based on Australian law such as the Jury Act of 1977, soliciting information from a juror is considered a criminal offense. Therefore, any research regarding actual juror conduct in real trials is uncommon. It must be approved by the appropriate ethics committee, Department of Justice, and Attorney-General in each state where research is conducted. Furthermore, the Chief Justice and Chief Judge must be aware of the ongoing experiment and provide their ethical approval. In other studies, researchers were prohibited from contacting jurors individually outside of court or pose any questions that could lead to jurors revealing confidential information about the deliberation process.8
The researchers in the article sought to follow ethical guidelines regarding juror research as well as carefully approaching the sensitive nature of sexual assault against children. Information was kept confidential, and general aspects of the topic were evaluated such as perceptions or attitudes. The limitations of the study included a wide disparity of responses amongst the jurors, often in the same trial. The study did not have the capability or a large enough sample size to explore this in-depth.
The issues raised by the article should be addressed in future research focusing on studies with actual jury panels in real cases, avoiding the limitations of mock trials. Empirical methods of research should be a priority in the future. A high disparity amongst jurors in the survey suggests that there is a lack of clear identification of attitudes amongst jurors towards out-of-court testimonies. Studies should be conducted to determine the correlation of various technologies (either a video recording or live video conference) on perceptions of jurors. In addition to juror perception, it may be viable to investigate a child’s experience in testifying out-of-court and whether there is a pattern between testimony and verdict outcomes.9
Cashmore, Judy and Lily Trimboli, ‘Child Sexual Assault Trials: A Survey of Juror Perceptions’  Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice 1.
Goodman-Delahunty, Jane et al., Practices, Policies and Procedures that Influence Juror Satisfaction in Australia, Research and Public Policy Series No 87 (2008).
Kang, Jerry et al, ‘Implicit Bias in the Courtroom’ (2012) 59(5) UCLA Law Review 1124.
Landström, Sara, ‘Psycho-legal aspects of visual courtroom technology’ in Pär Anders Granhag (ed), Forensic Psychology in Context: Nordic and International Approaches (Taylor & Francis, 2010) Ch. 12.
Munro, Vanessa, The Impact of the Use of Pre-Recorded Evidence On Juror Decision-Making: An Evidence Review (2018) Scottish Government. Web.
- Judy Cashmore and Lily Trimboli, ‘Child Sexual Assault Trials: A Survey of Juror Perceptions’  Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice 1, 1.
- Jerry Kang et al, ‘Implicit Bias in the Courtroom’ (2012) 59(5) UCLA Law Review 1124, 1160.
- Vanessa Munro, The Impact of the Use of Pre-Recorded Evidence On Juror Decision-Making: An Evidence Review (2018) Scottish Government. Web.
- Judy Cashmore and Lily Trimboli, ‘Child Sexual Assault Trials: A Survey of Juror Perceptions’  Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice 1, 14.
- Judy Cashmore and Lily Trimboli, ‘Child Sexual Assault Trials: A Survey of Juror Perceptions’  Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice 1, 4.
- Jane Goodman-Delahunty et al., Practices, Policies and Procedures that Influence Juror Satisfaction in Australia, Research and Public Policy Series No 87 (2008) 17.
- Sara Landström, ‘Psycho-legal aspects of visual courtroom technology’ in Pär Anders Granhag (ed), Forensic Psychology in Context: Nordic and International Approaches (Taylor & Francis, 2010) Ch. 12.