Researcher studying children's reliability as crime witnesses

A Regina researcher is studying the memory of children, the reliability of their testimony and their role in the legal system.

Children can be credible witnesses but they are also susceptible to being coached

Kaila Bruer's study involves learning about what may encourage a child to be honest or dishonest. (U of R Photography)

When it comes to children, their testimony and its role in the justice system, they can be reliable witnesses, according to one researcher.

"While [children] sometimes report less information than adults, the information that they do report is very accurate," Kaila Bruer told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Thursday. 

Bruer is a researcher from Regina who is now based in Toronto. She has studied children's memory at both the University of Regina and University of Toronto. 

The problem with a child's testimony — especially if they're younger than five years old — lies in their suggestibility, Bruer said. A child may be coached to say something by a parent or guardian, or told not to say something.

For instance, children are more likely to pick an innocent person out of a police lineup than an adult. Bruer said it might be due to a power dynamic in a particular room if a parent or officer is present. 

"The child might feel pressure to choose somebody in order to be helpful," she said. 

Another issue is that the task may just be too complicated for the child. 

Bruer said she has proposed a new lineup technique in which children are shown a pair of faces rather than lining up suspects all at once. 


With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition