The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

Law Reform Index

Law of Evidence - Section 23G

NZ Listener
October 4 2003
(published September 27, 2003)

Child abuse and the experts
by John Anderson, Barrister (Parnell, Auckland)

Professor Corballis ("Memory & the law", September 13) asserts that "the interpretation of psychological symptoms as evidence of abuse is now thoroughly discredited". I wish that it was. As I write, part of the law of New Zealand is section 23G of the Evidence Act 1908.

Section 23G(2)(c) of the act allows an "expert", ie, a registered psychologist or psychiatrist "with experience in the professional treatment of sexually abused children", to comment on evidence given by any person as to whether the child's behaviour is consistent or inconsistent with the behaviour of sexually abused children, This type of evidence is purely the opinion of the witness. This section is still used regularly by the Crown in child-sex-abuse cases, and every judge in the land is required to admit evidence brought in by virtue of that section.

The ongoing disquiet over the Peter Ellis affair is not just about whether a miscarriage of justice has occurred in this one case, but as to whether the law as it stands is capable of providing justice.

The minister would do well to institute an inquiry into just what opinion evidence should be permitted in child-sex-abuse cases. His assumption that the Ellis conviction is correct seems predicated on the belief that the Court of Appeal cannot get it wrong, and ignores the likelihood that the evidence the court relied on was, itself, unreliable.