The Testimonial Competence of Children: A Need for Law Reform in South Africa

  • Mildred Bekink University of South Africa
Keywords: criminal procedure law, constitutional law, competency, child witnesses, truth-lie test

Abstract

Modern-day research studies conducted on the victimisation of children in South Africa show that South African children in particular experience and witness exceptionally high levels of crime and consequently represent a significant portion of the victims and witnesses that have to appear in court to testify about these crimes. In South Africa, as in many other countries, a child is, however, permitted to testify in a criminal court only once the presiding officer is satisfied that the child is competent to be a witness. The competency test, though, presents a critical initial challenge for child witnesses, as it focuses on their ability to answer questions about the concepts of truth and lies. These inquiries can be intimidating and confusing, especially to younger children, and may result in children who would otherwise have been capable of giving evidence being prevented from giving their testimony. Various legal and psychological fraternities have accordingly called for the abolition or amendment of the truth-lie competency requirement. Recent psychological research about the potential of a child to lie has once again raised fundamental questions about the competency inquiry, suggesting that an assessment of children's understanding of truth and lies has no bearing on whether the child will in fact provide truthful evidence in court. These empirical findings precipitated the amendment of competency rules by various countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada. The findings likewise raise serious questions and or doubt about the suitability of the South African competency requirements. The purpose of this paper is to review the current South African position with a view to proposing suggestions for meaningful legal reform.

Author Biography

Mildred Bekink, University of South Africa

Department of Mercantile Law, College of Law

Senior Lecturer

References

Bala 2014 Roger Williams UL Rev
Bala N “Canada's empirically-based child competency test and its principled approach to hearsay” 2014 Roger Williams UL Rev 513, 525–528

Bala et al 2010 International Journal of Children's Rights
Bala et al “The competency of children to testify: psychological research informing Canadian law reform” 2010 International Journal of Children's Rights 53–77

Banoobhai W and Whitear-Nel N 2013 OBITER
Banoobhai and Whitear-Nel “Children’s evidence in sexual cases in the context of S v QN 2012 (1) SACR 380 (KZP)” 2013 OBITER 359, 364


Cashmore 1991 CLJ
Cashmore J “Problems and solutions in lawyer–child communications” 1991 CLJ 193–202

Du Toit et al Commentary on the Criminal Procedure Act
Du Toit E et al Commentary on the Criminal Procedure Act (Juta Cape Town loose leaf updates)

Erasmus 2010 Speculum Juris
Erasmus D “ʻThe truth, the whole truth or nothing…’ Is the competency inquiry applicable to child witnesses an evidentiary barrier to truth finding?” 2010 Speculum Juris 103–114


Evans & Lyon 2012 Law and Human Behavior
Evans AD and Lyon TD “Assisting children's competency to take the oath in court: the influence of question type on children's accuracy” 2012 Law and Human Behavior 195–205
Klemfuss & Ceci 2012 Developmental Review
Klemfuss JZ & Ceci SJ “Legal and psychological perspectives on children's competence to testify in court” 2012 Developmental Review 266, 275–277

Kruger, Pretorius and Diale 2016 CARSA
Kruger S, Pretorius HG and Diale BM “A psychological perspective on competency testing of the child victims and witnesses of sexual offenses in South Africa” 2016 CARSA 1–12

Lyon 2000 South California LR
Lyon TD “Child witnesses and the oath: empirical evidence” 2000 South California LR 1017–1074

Mahoney et al The Evidence Act 2006 Act and Analysis
Mahoney et al The Evidence Act 2006 Act and Analysis (Brookers Ltd Wellington 2014)

McEwan 1988 CLR
McEwan J “Child evidence: more proposals for reform” 1988 CLR 813–822
Monaghan Law of Evidence
Monaghan N Law of Evidence (–Cambridge Cambridge University Press 2015)

Müller Prosecuting the Child Sex Offender
Müller K (ed) Prosecuting the Child Sex Offender (Printrite Port Elizabeth 2001)



Müller The Judicial Officer
Müller K The Judicial Officer and the Child Witness (2002 Publisher not indicated ISBN 1-86828-161-2)

Ovens, Lamprechts and Prinsloo 2001 Acta Criminologica
Ovens M, Lamprechts D and Prinsloo J “Child witnesses in the criminal justice system” 2001 Acta Criminologica 25–41

Quinn 1988 Behavioral Science & the Law
Quinn KM “The credibility of children’s allegations of sexual abuse” 1988 Behavioral Science & the Law 181–199

Schwikkard 1996 Acta Juridica
Schwikkard PJ “The abused child: a few rules of evidence considered” 1996 Acta Juridica 148–162

Wigmore Evidence in Trials at Common Law Vol 1
Wigmore JH Evidence in Trials at Common Law Vol 1 (Little Brown & Co Boston 1983)

Zeffert and Paizes Essential Evidence
Zeffert DT and Paizes A Essential Evidence (LexisNexis Durban 2010)

Case law
Blagojevich v R 2011 NZCA 217
Chaimowitz v Chaimowitz 1 1960 4 SA 818 (K)
Director of Public Prosecutions,Transvaal v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development 2009 2 SACR 130 (CC)
Mpontshane v S 2016 4 All SA 145 (KZP)
R v Barker 2010 EWCA Crim 4
R v Bell 1929 CPD 478
R v J 1958 3 SA 699 (SR)
R v Jellyman 2009 NZCA 532
R v J.S. 2008 B.C.C.A. 401 (Can)
R v Manda 1951 3 SA 158 (A)
S v B 2003 1 SACR 52 (SCA)
S v BM 2012 2 SACR 507 (FB).
S v FM 2016 3 NR 724 (NLD)
S v Gallant 2008 1 SACR 196 (E)
S v L 1973 1 SA 344 (KPA)
S v Mali 2017 JDR 0893 (ECG)
S v Malinga 2002 1 SACR 615 (N)
S v Matshiva 2014 1 SACR 29 (SCA)
S v Mbokazi 2017 1 SACR 317 (KZP)
S v Mokeona; S v Phaswane 2008 2 SACR 216 (T)
S v N 1996 2 SACR 225 (C)
S V QN 2012 1 SACR 380 (KZP)
S v Raghubar 2013 1 SACR 389 (SCA)
S v S 1995 1 SACR 50 (ZS)
S v Sikhipa 2006 2 SACR 439 (SCA)
S v Stefaans 1999 1 SACR 182 (CPD)
S v Swartz 2009 1 SACR 452 (C)
S v T 1973 3 SA 794 (A)
S v Tshimbudzi 2013 1 SACR 528 (SCA)
S v Williams 2010 1 SACR 493 (E)
Woji v Santam Insurance Company Ltd 1981 1 SA 1020 (A)

Legislation
Canadian Evidence Act R.S.C 1985, Chap 5, enacted as SC 2005, c.32, s 27
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977
England’s Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (UK), c.23
The New Zealand Evidence Act 69 of 2006


Government publications
Department of Social Development, Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities & UNICEF Violence Against Children in South Africa 2012

South African Law Commission Sexual Offences Report Project 107 2002

Newspaper article
Faber Sunday Times 12
Faber T “Revealed: rising number of kids abused and murdered” Sunday Times (12 July 2015) 12

Internet sources
Artz et al 2016 http://www.cjcp.org.za/uploads/2/7/8/4/27845461/08_cjcp_report _2016_d.pdf
Artz et al 2016 Optimus Study South Africa: Technical report, sexual victimisation of children in South Africa http://www.cjcp.org.za/uploads/2/7/8/4/27845461/08_cjcp _report_2016_d.pdf accessed 1 October 2017

Crime Statistics Overview RSA 2011/2012
Crime Statistics Overview RSA 2011/2012 http://www.saps.gov.za/statistics/reports/ crimestats/2012/downloads/crime_statistics_presen-tation.pdf accessed 7 October 2014

Crown Prosecution Service Competence and Compellability: Legal Guidance: the Crown Prosecution Service
Crown Prosecution Service Competence and Compellability: Legal Guidance: the Crown Prosecution Service http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/a_to_c/ competence _and_comppellability) accessed 21September 2017
Fang et al 2016 https://www.savethechildren.org.za/sites/savethechildren.org.za/ files/resources/Violence%20Unwrapped%20-%20The%20Social%20and%20Econo mic%20Burden%20of%20VAC%20in%20South%20Africa.pdf
Fang X et al 2016 The economic burden of Violence Against Children in South Africa. Report to Save the Children South Africa. Georgia State University, and Universities of Cape Town and Edinburgh https://www.savethechildren.org.za/sites /savethechildren.org.za/files/resources/Violence%20Unwrapped%20-%20The%20 Social%20and%20Economic%20Burden%20of%20VAC%20in%20South%20Africa.pdf accessed 1 October 2017

Jamieson, Sambu and Matthews 2017 (http://www.ci.uct.ac.za/ sites/default /files/image_tool/images/367/publication/2017/Child_Abuse_Tracking_Study_Report.pdf
Jamieson L, Sambu W and Matthews S 2017 Out of Harm’s way: Tracking child abuse cases through the child protection system in five selected cities of South Africa. Cape Town Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town http://www.ci.uct.ac.za /sites/default/files/image_tool/images/367/publication/2017/Child_Abuse_Tracking_Study_Report.pdf accessed 1 October 2017

New Zealand Law Commission The Evidence of Children and Other Vulnerable Witnesses: A Discussion Paper (Paper 26)
New Zealand Law Commission The Evidence of Children and Other Vulnerable Witnesses: A Discussion Paper (Paper 26) http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/our-projects/ evidence-law-evidence- children-and-other-vulnerable-witnesses accessed 3 October 2017
New Zealand Law Commission Evidence: Reform of the Law Report 55 vol 1 (1996)
New Zealand Law Commission Evidence: Reform of the Law Report 55 vol 1 (1996) http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/sites/default/files/publication/1990/08/Publication_56_163_ R55%20Vol%201.pdf accessed 4October 2017
New Zealand Law Commission The 2013 Review of the Evidence Act 2006 – Report 127
New Zealand Law Commission The 2013 Review of the Evidence Act 2006 – Report 127 http://r127.publications.lawcom.govt.nz/ accessed 3 October 2017

Seeth 2017 http://city-press.news24.com/News/violence-against-children-a-national-disaster -20170529
Seeth A 2017 “Violence against children in South Africa a national disaster” 2017-05-29 City Press available at http://city-press.news24.com/News/violence-against-children-a-national-disaster-20170529 accessed 1 October 2017

Stats SA Victims of Crime Survey 2016/2017 http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=10521
Stats SA Victims of Crime Survey 2016/2017 http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=10521
accessed 1 October 2017
Views
  • Abstract 0
  • pdf 0
  • XML 0
Views and downloads are with effect from 11 January 2018
Published
2018-04-11
Section
Articles