Expert evidence about memory in New Zealand sexual violence trials and appellate courts 2001 to 2020

Child sexual abuse Sexual assault Courts Procedural justice Witness welfare New Zealand

In criminal proceedings in Aotearoa New Zealand there has been an increase in applications to admit expert evidence about memory, most commonly by defence counsel. Almost all these cases have involved allegations of historical child sexual abuse. Memory evidence has been admitted in some cases but deemed inadmissible in others. Thus, memory expert evidence may be regarded as contentious in our courts – as it is in courts in similar commonwealth jurisdictions. This project arose out of concern that the nature of memory expert evidence offered to the courts exaggerates memory fallibility in relation to sexual violence complaints and that the research cited in support lacks relevance or ecological validity. At issue is whether jurors need educating about memory, whether memory evidence represents settled science and/or whether memory witnesses inappropriately offer opinion about the credibility of witnesses.

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