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Re: Reasons for believing

Posted by Perry on November 13, 2005 at 15:47:26

In Reply to: Reasons for believing posted by Observer on November 11, 2005 at 14:58:24:

I don't know about statistics on the subject, but even if 50-60% of communication is non-verbal that doesn't necessarily mean the communication will be correctly understood. I was really just talking about the courtroom, and as you point out, in the BI case there was a preponderance of evidence that supported the testimony of those witnesses who were abused in TF. All of that, much more than body language imo, helped the judge reach his conclusion that they were being truthful.

I guess I'm just a bit uncomfortable with the idea of interpreting a person's body language as a means of gauging the truthfulness of their words because it is so easy to misinterpret body language. Perhaps my discomfort comes from real life experiences I've had with this. I specialized in Aboriginal rights in law school and worked for awhile in a legal clinic in the poorest postal code neighbourhood in the country. The clients were all aboriginal and I spent nearly everyday in court defending them on a variety of criminal matters. Now, no one likes to be brought before a judge and most find it an extremely uncomfortable position to be in. But for the First Nations people of Canada, given the multitude of injustices they have suffered at the heavy hand of the state, just being in a courtroom can be an intense event producing high anxiety. Often they are the lone aboriginal person in the room, in some places such as in the north they may not speak english well so don't understand everything that is said to them, and authority figures in uniform may trigger all kinds of anxieties related to past abuses.

The Canadian legal system recognizes some of these cultural problems by writing into the Criminal Code legislation that requires special consideration of the unique circumstances faced by aboriginal defendants. There is also cultural sensitivity training for judges so that they should be aware that shifty nervousness, trembling, sweating, avoidance of direct eye contact, etc, do not necessarily indicate guilt or lying. They could just as easily indicate a panic attack related to past abuse at the hands of the state or church (enabled by the state) authorities.

I'm not disputing with you that body language can't be read accurately, just that when it comes to a judge trying to determine a witnesses credibility, body language only plays a small part, if any. Interpreting body language might play a bigger part in the duty of such persons as police and customs officers, who often have to make an instant decision on very little information. In that case, body language could play an important factor.