The role of qualification, experience and work context in perceptions of credibility and self-efficacy amongst forensic social workers as expert witnesses
The credibility and self-efficacy of the forensic social worker as expert witness in the criminal court is an important consideration for the efficacy of witness testimony. The central function of a forensic social worker is to testify as expert witness in the criminal court and this task is multifaceted and require expertise in addition to forensic social work knowledge. Efficacy in this role is determined by the judiciary that demand evidence presentation of corroborative value that is believable and of sufficient influence. Witnesses viewed as a credible source of accurate expert knowledge and adequate belief in their ability to succeed in this role is more influential than a witness lacking in witness credibility and self-efficacy. This study was conducted to investigate witness credibility and self-efficacy perceptions of forensic social workers to contrast these against testifying experience, social work experience, post-graduate education, work context and age. The two central concepts, witness credibility and witness self-efficacy, share theoretical and practical similarities, hence both concepts are required to develop a holistic understanding of efficacious witness testimony. This study represents the first attempt to analyse these concepts from a South African forensic social work perspective. By means of quantitative research the perceptions of 101 forensic practitioners situated in eight participating organisations across South Africa was measured. The Witness Credibility Scale assessed perceptions of witness credibility, defined in terms of trustworthiness, knowledge, confidence and likeability (Brodsky, Griffin, & Cramer, 2010). The Witness Self-Efficacy Scale measured perceptions of witness self-efficacy as represented by poise and communication style (Cramer, 2009). Forensic social workers in this study regard themselves as highly credible expert witnesses with a strong belief in the ability to expedite witness testimony successfully. As expert witnesses, forensic social workers self-report high on trustworthiness, but seem to lack sufficient confidence for the courtroom setting. Forensic practitioners with more court testimony experience believe they are more knowledgeable, trustworthy, credible and effective expert witnesses. Testimony delivery skills, as represented by poise and communication style, consistently appear to predict how knowledgeable, confident and credible the expert witness is viewed by the judiciary. The study concludes that enhanced witness confidence for court appearances may augment overall witness credibility and self-efficacy. Utility of the Witness Credibility and Witness Self-Efficacy Scales was assessed for the South African context.
- Health Sciences