Enlightening reliability of child witnesses

A University of Canterbury historian’s new research into historical German forensic psychology may give insight into the reliability of witness testimony, particularly in cases where children appear as prosecution witnesses.


A new research in historical German forensic psychology enlightens the reliability of witness declaration, especially in situations where kids show up as indictment witnesses. The study examines the rise and early advancement of measurable brain research in Germany from the late nineteenth century until the flare-up of the Second World War, featuring the field’s interdisciplinary beginnings and challenged development.

UC Senior Lecturer in Modern European History Dr. Heather Wolffram said, “My book looks at how and why the psychology of the witness, particularly the child witness, became important in German courtrooms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany.”

“It uses a number of sensational murder and sex crimes trials to look at how psychological expertise was applied in court and asks why forensic psychology appears to have gone into decline under the Nazis.”

“My work shows that the kinds of debates that emerged in the 1990s around the reliability of repressed memories and juvenile witnesses were not new and had been rehearsed in German courtrooms as early as the 1890s. My work demonstrates what some of the consequences of these earlier debates were for the treatment of juvenile witnesses and the fortunes of forensic psychologists.”

At first, visualized as brain research of every one of those engaged with criminal procedures, this new teaching of measurable brain research guaranteed to move far from a restrictive spotlight on the criminal to give an all-encompassing perspective of how human uncertainty affected criminal equity. As this book contends, notwithstanding, by the between-war period, criminological brain research had to a great extent, turned into a brain research of the witness; its concentration was limited by the exigencies of the court.

Utilizing point-by-point investigations of the 1896 Berchtold trial and the 1930 Frenzel trial, the book asks whether the pressures between psychiatry, brain science, scientific prescription, teaching method and law over mental aptitude were available in court practice and looks at why as a reasonable victor in the “fight for legal brain research” presently couldn’t seem to develop by 1939.

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