Survey of juror perceptions in child sexual assault trials

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Release Date: Monday, 18 December 2006

Most jurors in child sexual assault cases find the use of CCTV and pre-recorded evidence very helpful, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

In the first-ever study of its kind in NSW and only the second ever conducted in Australia, the Bureau was granted permission to interview 277 jurors from 25 juries hearing child sexual assault trials in the NSW District Court between May 2004 and December 2005

The aim of the survey was to explore jurors' perceptions of the fairness of the trial process where CCTV and pre-recorded evidence are used (to reduce the stress on the child of either seeing the defendant or being in the courtroom).

Most jurors (84.0 per cent) stated that the pre-recorded tape of the child's evidence in chief either helped 'a lot' (44.6 per cent) or 'quite a lot' (39.4 per cent) in understanding the child's evidence and allowing them to see the child give a first-hand account closer to the time of the alleged offence/s.

The vast majority of jurors also said that the use of CCTV was either 'quite fair' or 'very fair' both to the child complainants (90.3 per cent) and to the defendants (88.0 per cent).

Jurors, however, reported more difficulty seeing and/or hearing the videotaped pre-recorded statement than seeing and/or hearing the child via CCTV. Nearly a third (32 per cent overall) said that they had problems seeing (17 per cent) or hearing (23 per cent) the pre-recorded statement because of poor quality sound or visuals.

A sizeable number of jurors (40, 14.5%) across 23 of the 25 trials nonetheless also reported problems with the CCTV equipment, including problems with the microphones and the child complainant being unable to see or hear those in the courtroom.

Nearly all the jurors (97.4 per cent) perceived that the defendants were treated either 'very fairly' (59.9 per cent) or 'quite fairly' (37.6 per cent) in court. However, whereas 85.1 per cent of judges were seen as 'very fair' to child complainants, only 58 per cent of prosecution lawyers and 33.9 per cent of defence lawyers were seen as 'very fair'.

Jurors had both positive and negative views about being a juror on a child sexual assault trial: 64 per cent of the 277 jurors made favourable comments about their experience; 65 per cent made negative comments.

The positive comments referred to the value of learning how the legal system operates, seeing justice done and 'making the right decision.' The negative comments included having to make a decision based on uncertain evidence, general frustration with the legal process including concerns about the 'completeness' of the evidence they were allowed to hear, and the stressful, unpleasant and emotional nature of the subject matter.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 0419-494-408 or 9231-9190