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


183. As well as the additional needs of some children in the JII setting outlined in Part 4, investigations may involve complicating factors to be taken into account. Insofar as possible, these should be identified during the pre-interview planning phase, although some factors may only become apparent during the interview stage. If any complicating factors are highlighted then the supervisor/manager should be consulted, and if necessary an alternative approach initiated.

184. Some possible complicating factors include:

  • where the child gives information about further instances of abuse/other allegations
  • when the child witness becomes a suspect
  • presence of multiple witnesses or suspects in a case
  • institutional abuse
  • children who have been coached before interview
  • trafficked children or refugee/unaccompanied asylum seeking children
  • lengthy time-lapses
  • family and community loyalty
  • forced or arranged marriages

When the child witness becomes a suspect

185. During the course of the JII, the child may impart some information that implicates them in the commission of a criminal offence or suggests they may have been complicit in the offence. If the interviewers conclude that the child's status has changed from that of a witness to that of a suspect, the interview should not be terminated immediately. It should be explained to the child that the offence disclosed is a separate matter and will be dealt with later. This will be dependent on the nature of the offence disclosed by the child. Should the interview require to be terminated this should not happen abruptly; the child should be allowed to finish any statement they wish to make in relation to the subject matter of the joint investigative interview. Interviewers will require to, carefully, strike a balance between eliciting as much information as possible in relation to the subject matter of the investigation, while ensuring that any incriminatory statements have not been elicited unfairly. Interviewers should always remember to end the interview in line with guidance on the closure phase.

186. The decision to bring an investigative interview to a close under these circumstances should always be considered very carefully. The paramount consideration for the purpose of the interview is the welfare of the child. A child who may have committed an offence may require protection and may have important information regarding their own victimisation and experiences.

187. In such circumstances, a further interview will normally be conducted relating to the child's involvement in the newly emerged alleged criminal offence, following established police procedures.

188. It is impossible to know exactly how an interview will unfold. Nevertheless, it is wise to anticipate such eventualities in the planning phase, and interviewers should attempt to have contingency plans prepared. The predominance of the child's needs and welfare in any question of balance with the interests of justice must still be borne in mind. If the child's account as a victim/witness is considered the main priority and the interview is to continue, it should proceed in accordance with this guidance.

Multiple witnesses/suspects

189. The need for strategic overview of the interview process with children in cases involving multiple witnesses or suspects was raised in the Social Work Inspection Agency report The care and protection of children in Eilean Siar (Scottish Executive, 2005c). This is to ensure cross-referencing both within and between the programmes of suspect interviews and witness interviews.

190. While it may not to be possible for the same interviewers to be present at each interview, a member of the investigating team should have responsibility for the strategic overview, usually the senior investigating officer. This could be a trained police interview adviser, or could be the police officer or social worker supervising the joint interviewers.

191. Decisions about the need for strategic overview of the JIIs, alongside cross referencing should be taken as soon as multiple witnesses/suspects are identified by the investigation. Nevertheless, each interview in the process should be conducted in line with the guidance.

192. While clarification relating to other children's evidence may be needed, there is a particular danger of interviewer bias arising in such cases, and of (mis)leading a child. The guidance in the section on questioning (paragraphs 119- 144) should be followed in questioning children considerately, and only after they have finished their own free narrative and giving their own account.

Institutional abuse

193. This includes allegations of 'in care' abuse. These are likely to involve multiple witnesses and multiple interviews of single witnesses. They also require careful planning of interviews and cross referencing of witness allegations and statements (see paragraph 189 above). These interviews also involve serious consideration of repercussions for children in disclosing, which needs to be addressed during the planning and debriefing stages. Equally there are issues for timescales for conducting interviews if suspects may still have contact/charge of children or vulnerable people.

194. Where abuse is alleged to have occurred in an institutional setting for which the local authority concerned has responsibility, all steps should be taken to ensure that the management of the enquiry within the social work service, or other responsible agency is not undertaken by those with direct line or any previous management responsibility for the unit/institution concerned.

Children who may have been coached before interview

195. There is a need for all interviewers to consider explicitly the possibility or probability that a child may have been subject to coaching prior to the interview process. This issue may arise where a parent or carer is involved in the allegations, and also may arise if there are any ongoing divorce, separation, child abduction, residence or contact issues in the family. For these reasons, it is very ill-advised ever to have any third party present at JII who has an interest in the custody of the child or in the parental relationship. Care should be given in relation to the presence of third parties such as grandparents or any person who may have an interest in the outcome of the interview. Paragraphs 56- 58 above give further guidance on this.

196. Consideration of coaching needs to be addressed at both the planning and debriefing stages. The emphasis should be on asking appropriate questions. (see paragraph 102).

Children trafficked or refugee/unaccompanied asylum seeking children

197. Any fears that the witness may have as a result of speaking about what happened need to be explicitly considered, including fears about leave to remain/retribution/deportation. As well as being considered such fears need to be specifically addressed during the rapport building phase and when setting out the interview guidelines. Interviewers should be aware that children can be trafficked from within their own country, not just abroad. Scottish Government guidance on Safeguarding Children in Scotland who may have been Trafficked can be found at -

198. There may be certain barriers to communication other than language. Some children from asylum-seeking families, for example, may have had previous negative experiences of law enforcement or social services in their country of origin. Such issues should be considered in advance of the JII ( i.e. during the planning stage) and also at the debriefing stage and be treated with due care and consideration.

Lengthy time-lapse

199. In time-lapse cases the child may have serious difficulties in providing detailed recall of events, especially in relation to multiple incidents ( i.e. re-victimisation by different perpetrators in separate or unrelated incidents in the intervening period). Time-lapse is also a factor in historical abuse cases.

200. Planning the interview in such cases should include strategies for questioning in the event that the free narrative technique cannot be fully used.

Family and community loyalty

201. The potential for public or familial shame can be a major determinant of how co-operative the child and family are with the investigation (a child disclosing allegations of abuse might fear retribution from the family and the community).

202. In smaller or rural communities, additional care needs to be taken when considering specialist assistance, particularly when selecting people to help with communication needs. In such communities, it may be difficult to identify suitable specialists locally; as noted earlier (see paragraph 170) specialists must be independent of the investigation in order to ensure accuracy of the child's communication, and to avoid any potential intimidation of the child. It may also prove difficult to recruit local specialists who are accredited for the role, and who have sufficient experience in talking to children, in which case suitable specialists may have to be recruited from elsewhere.

Back to top