$742,000 grant leaves vice-chancellor 'delighted'

Research led by University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne is likely to further clarify how children's testimony should be presented in court, in child abuse cases.

Prof Hayne was ''absolutely delighted'' to gain the $742,000 Marsden Fund grant, which is expected to make ''an important contribution to the New Zealand justice system''.

Prof Hayne said she and her research team were ''anxious to get started on our work'', involving their research project, titled ''Out of the mouths of babes: Interviewing children in forensic contexts''.

She noted that in some high-profile trials involving allegations of child abuse, convictions had been overturned because of the way children had been questioned.

Researchers now understood ''much more about the best way to interview children in legal settings''.

However, ''untested interview procedures'' were still commonly used to collect and present children's testimony, here and overseas.

Researchers would test the effect of these procedures on the ''content and accuracy of children's reports and on jurors' decisions''.

The findings would ''maximise the chances that professionals obtain complete and accurate accounts'' in cases involving children and ''shed new light'' on the way a child's testimony should be presented in court.

New Zealand had been ''at the forefront of legislative changes regarding child witnesses'', she said.

The Otago-led research would have ''important implications'' for ongoing developments in the way children were interviewed in forensic settings and how their testimony was presented to the jury.

Prof Hayne had always seen her academic role at Otago University as a ''huge privilege''.

''Tackling issues that are relevant to New Zealand through my own research is one way that I can fulfil the obligations that come with that privilege,'' she said.

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