Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland

Good practice guidance for police officers and social workers who are carrying out joint investigative interviews with child witnesses


160. Children in the JII setting with additional support needs arising from disabilities, sensory impairments or illnesses, should be identified through preliminary checks at the referral stage with parents, carers, health professionals or educational professionals. Where appropriate, further clarification of additional support needs should be sought by contacting those professionals working directly with the child and family, e.g. the primary health care team, education professionals, community paediatrician, child psychiatrist, psychologist or therapists.

161. Facilities for visually recorded interviews should be designed and constructed to comply with disability access requirements and the Equality Act 2010. They should also fully enable any investigative interviews with children with additional support needs or disabilities. Accommodation standards are set out at Appendix F.

162. Very young children, those with first languages other than English, and children from ethnic minority backgrounds may also have additional support needs in the JII setting, particularly communication needs. 'Cultural' issues arising from belonging to specific communities (including in relation to deaf children and deaf culture) may also indicate that a child has additional support needs.

163. These factors should be considered and additional support needs identified should be taken into account and addressed at the planning stage. This part of the guidance does not cover all the circumstances or factors which may indicate additional support needs. Instead, it focuses on issues around interviewing arising from:

  • disabilities, impairments and illness
  • very young age
  • where English is not the first language
  • ethnic considerations.

164. Paragraphs 173- 182 below set out guidance for planning an interview where additional support needs have been identified.

Disabilities and illnesses

165. Disabilities and illnesses vary widely in terms of type of impairment ( e.g. physical, sensory, learning, social, communication) and severity of impact on the child. Therefore interviewers should usually seek specialist advice from expert professionals familiar with that specific disability and with the child and the family. Expert opinion can advise on how to tailor the interview to the child's particular needs - including the physical setting -to make the experience as suitable and as comfortable as possible for all involved. All specialists brought in to assist in preparing for the interview should be independent from the investigation, qualified, be accredited in their role, and have appropriate experience that includes talking to children.

166. When assessing/considering the child's needs, the focus should always be: "So what are their abilities?" Even if the child cannot communicate through the usual communication media, this should not prevent investigative agencies from attempting to obtain their account. The child should not be excluded automatically from the investigative process. Section 3 of The use of special measures for vulnerable witnesses with special support needs in the guidance pack on the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 (Scottish Executive, 2006a) provides more detail about supporting child witnesses with additional support needs.

Very young children

167. Considerations for this group include the fact that very young children can be very attached to familiar figures, particularly a parent or carer. They can be distrustful of strangers and become distressed or avoid contact when left alone in rooms with unfamiliar adults. Unfamiliar surroundings can heighten their distress. Furthermore, pre-school children are more used to interacting with adults in play situations rather than serious formal sessions; building rapport will be essential and more time may be needed when explaining the principles of the investigative interview.

168. Additional communication needs have to be addressed when interviewing very young children, especially through awareness and understanding of how very young children use and interpret language. Young children may still be able to provide important evidential information despite providing shorter 'free narrative' accounts than older children. Nevertheless, each child may differ in this respect and interviewers must always employ the use of free narrative opportunities in interviews, remembering that this generally provides the most productive and reliable accounts from child witnesses.

When the child's first language is not English

169. A child should, wherever possible, be interviewed in their first language (or, if bilingual, the one of their preference). Only in special circumstances, i.e. where an interpreter is not available and there is an immediate need to talk to the child, should an exception be made. Such circumstances do not include the JII, but rather would be about establishing whether there are sufficient grounds to proceed to a JII or about whether immediate intervention is necessary. Interviewers should be aware that some children who use English everyday, for example at school, may revert to using their first language for certain terms, e.g. parts of the body.

170. If an interpreter is required, then they should be someone independent of the child's family and community. They should be fully briefed as to their role and remit during the interview and to the principles of the phased interview. The interpreter should also have an understanding of the child's cultural context as well as being able to speak the relevant language. Further, they should be suitably vetted and appropriately accredited if required to appear in court.

171. The interpreter should be fully aware that they must interpret exactly the interviewer's questions and the child's responses, and that they should avoid making inferences. Moreover, interpreters should understand their role is not to add in or omit anything, but just report what has been said. Where the use of idiom poses a problem in interpretation/translation the interpreter should be aware of the need to alert the interviewers and explain the implications for the translated version of a question or response. Such occurrences should be recorded in the note of key points.


172. When interviewing children from different backgrounds and heritage, interviewers might encounter beliefs and values that are different to their own. The child's culture and customs must always be respected. The following are some points to consider:

  • certain rituals or customs might affect the scheduling of the interview ( e.g. prayer times, holy days, fasting)
  • behaviour towards authority figures can vary from culture to culture. In some cultures it is inappropriate for a child to question anything an authority figure says. In this situation, it is essential that the interviewer makes especially clear the interview principles described in paragraphs 97- 99, for example that the child should correct the interviewer if the interviewer makes a mistake
  • beliefs and practices regarding child rearing can also vary from culture to culture. Interviewers should respect that and avoid passing judgement.

Planning an interview for a child with additional support needs

173. More time will be needed during the planning phase to gather and assess information from all relevant sources. Detailed guidance is available in Information about child, young and vulnerable adult witnesses to inform decision-making in the legal process (Scottish Executive, 2005).

174. Planning the interview accommodation for a child with additional support needs is particularly important. The interview should take place in a suitable setting - i.e. one able to accommodate any equipment ( e.g. a wheelchair), free from distractions and noise, with good lighting, etc. Seating arrangements should reflect the needs of the child, as set out in the accommodation standards.

175. If communication boards, other visual aids or signing are to be used, interviewers should ensure:

  • that a statement is made, before the child enters the room, as to the type/model of aid being used
  • that, if a person is signing, then particular care needs to be taken as to the positioning of the interviewer and the child, so that signing can be understood by someone watching the recording.

176. Interviewers should always be conscious that others may wish to observe the completed recording and, without compromising the experience of the child, do all that is possible to facilitate understanding by those observers. This will include providing an appropriate vocabulary of what the child is being asked.

177. Very young children and children with learning disabilities may not always respond to open-ended prompts. That being the case, the free narrative stage of the interview involves careful planning so that the interviewer may begin with a specific question and then follow it with an open-ended prompt. Interviewers should still take care to avoid leading the child or influencing their responses.

178. With certain conditions, children may struggle with abstract concepts (including 'trust', 'yesterday', 'tomorrow', 'hot', 'cold', 'soft') therefore the investigative team will need to consider carefully how to frame suitable questions and seek advice.

179. Children with additional support needs may have a shorter attention span, requiring more breaks and shorter sessions.

180. Consideration of other persons to be present at interview should be part of the interview strategy in line with the guidance in paragraphs 54- 64. If a need for a facilitator ( e.g. an interpreter) is identified, additional time will have to be set aside to ensure they are clearly briefed about their role and remit for the interview. This will require some flexible scheduling, not only for planning meetings but also for the interview itself.

181. The facilitator should be independent of the child (not a family member or another witness in the investigation). Planning should include the time needed for the facilitator to be introduced to the child and take full part in the rapport building stage. Facilitators should be clear as to their interview role, and the child should be made aware that the police officer or social worker is the lead interviewer and that all responses should be directed towards them, not the facilitator.

182. In some cases, for instance with a very young child with an impairment, it may be that the only person with whom the child will and can communicate successfully is the person to whom they are closest and with whom they are most familiar, i.e. a parent or carer. Those planning the interview must consider the known or alleged circumstances of the case and decide whether the parent or carer can be a suitable facilitator. Reasons for having a parent, carer or other close relative present to facilitate the interview should be documented at the planning stage, and their role during the interview made clear. Consideration should be given to having them in the control room to perform this role with the second interviewer, who can use an earpiece to communicate with the lead interviewer.

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