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Mapping the Changing Face of Cross-Examination

Unit(s) of assessment: Law

Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society

School: School of Arts and Humanities; Nottingham Law School


We live in extraordinary times. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the criminal courts were already going through an unprecedented era of change through the rise of new technologies and enhanced understandings of the need to adapt our adversarial justice system to take account of the needs of victims, defendants, witnesses and the wider public.

This is a collaborative three year research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation between the University of Nottingham (UoN) and Nottingham Trent University (NTU) exploring the changing nature of cross-examination in times of change and uncertainty. The research team will map the precise nature and extent of ongoing changes to criminal advocacy, to identify specific issues and problems, and to develop appropriate solutions. As the first study of its kind, the project not only analyses how new approaches towards cross-examination are producing change on the ground, but is also designed to make a real difference in terms of effecting cultural change within the legal profession to the questioning of vulnerable witnesses.

The project is led by Professor John Jackson in the School of Law (University of Nottingham). Co-Investigators are Professor Jonathan Doak at Nottingham Law School (Nottingham Trent University), Dr Candida Saunders in the School of Law (University of Nottingham) and Dr David Wright, a linguist in the School of Arts and Humanities (Nottingham Trent University).

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Work Packages

As the first study of its kind using a mixed methodology, the research is designed to map the precise nature and extent to which new approaches towards cross-examination are producing change on the ground in the four legal jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We aim to identify specific issues and problems and develop evidence-based solutions that enhance the capacity of vulnerable people to participate within the trial. This will be achieved through six separate, though interlinked, work-packages.

Work Package 1: Overall project management

Management of the project overall, including access to the research sites, judicial permissions, research ethics, monitoring activities of the research team, data management, quality assurance, data analysis, synthesis and dissemination.

Work Package 2: International best practice

This entails a comprehensive review of law, policy and practice of cross-examination across common law jurisdictions such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States which share a common law adversarial tradition with the legal jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland. Comparative insights into innovative practice in less adversarial jurisdictions in Scandinavia will also be examined to consider whether there is potential for certain practices there to be imported into a common law tradition.

Work Package 3: Courtroom observation

Observation of cross-examination of vulnerable and non-vulnerable witnesses in jury trials in six research sites across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Semi-structured interviews will be carried out with judges, prosecuting and defence counsel, and intermediaries who practice in each of the research sites. These will explore the extent to which practices such as Ground Rules Hearings and 'best evidence' cross-examination are effecting cultural change within the judiciary and legal profession as to how vulnerable witnesses should be questioned.

Work Package 5: Corpus Linguistic Analysis

A corpus linguistic analysis of a sample of the cross-examinations observed across the research sites will be carried out. Central to this technique will be the ability to not only quantitatively analyse the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses for the first time, but to compare language and discourse patterns across the examination of vulnerable and non-vulnerable witnesses.

Work Package 6: Synthesis, dissemination and impact

This will involve engagement with beneficiary communities who will be directly involved in the project and communication through the publication of regular updates, findings and recommendations through practice-facing outlets, a website and social media. A major conference will be organised in final six months of the project to disseminate the findings and explore the ramifications.

For further information, please contact Professor Jonathan Doak.