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Purpose. To identify the ways in which witnesses with and without intellectual disabilities are examined in court. Specifically to identify what questions are asked and what influence they have.

Methods. Court transcripts were obtained for 16 rape, sexual assault or assault trials involving witnesses with intellectual disabilities and 16 matched cases involving witnesses from the general population. The cases were assessed systematically concerning the questioning strategies of lawyers and the influence of those strategies on witness responses.

Results. Questioning of witnesses with intellectual disabilities was almost identical to that of witnesses from the general population indicating that lawyers are not altering their questioning behaviour for witnesses with intellectual disabilities, either positively or negatively. Cross-examination is particularly poor for eliciting accurate memory reports, especially for witnesses with intellectual disabilities. The accounts of witnesses with intellectual disabilities are shorter and more likely to agree with a leading question than are accounts from the general population.

Conclusion. The way in which witnesses are examined does little to ensure that their memories are as accurate as possible. People with intellectual disabilities should be questioned in such a way that their ability to give accurate evidence in court is maximized.