Obtaining evidence from vulnerable witnesses

15th October 2008

The SIPR Evidence & Investigation Network Seminar "Obtaining evidence from vulnerable witnesses " was held on Wednesday 15th October 2008 at the Council Chambers, Woodhill House, Westburn Road, Aberdeen.

Welcome, CS Simon Blake, Crime Management, Grampian Police Text of welcome [18 Kb]

Child Witnesses

Chair: Professor Amina Memon, University of Aberdeen

  • Vulnerable witnesses - scope, nature and research
    Professor Brian R. Clifford (University of East London and University of Aberdeen)
    PowerPoint
    [190 Kb]

    Abstract: The concept of 'the vulnerable witness' will be outlined. How, and to whom, the concept is applied in the criminal justice system will then be delineated. The various categories of vulnerable witnesses will then be examined and the nature of their putative vulnerability will be outlined. Research will then be discussed that serves to confirm, deny or elaborate on the supposed evidential inadequacies of the various categories of vulnerable witness. The presentation will focus on the investigative interview aspect of vulnerable witnesses, rather than court innovations, and compare and contrast the adequacy, efficiency and effectiveness of the various interviewing protocols that are currently available to the serving police officer.

  • Obtaining eyewitness evidence from child witnesses: the advantage of VIPER parades
    Dr Catriona Havard (Eyewitness Research Group, University of Aberdeen and SIPR)
    PowerPoint
    [4.2 Mb]

    Abstract: In the UK there have been an increasing number of children being asked to give evidence as witnesses in criminal cases and view video lineups to identify perpetrators, however little research has investigated how well children perform using this type of identification procedure. In this study children aged 6-8 and 13-14 years witnessed a staged event where an unfamiliar man interrupted a classroom or assembly and several days later were asked to identify the man from either a video or photographic lineup. For some lineups the target was present (target present) whereas for others the target was not (target absent). The results found an advantage for the target absent video lineups over the photographic lineups, but only for adolescents.

  • The delicate handling of "don't know" responses during interviews with children (and everyone else)
    Dr Alan Scoboria (University of Winsor, Ontario, Canada)
    PowerPoint
    [1.9 Mb]

    Abstract: Don't know responses and other expressions of ignorance are common during interviews, and such responses arise for many reasons. The best approach for handling such utterances is less than straightforward. The inevitable trade-off between quantity of information gathered and accuracy of said information will be discussed, with a focus upon how best to address "don't know" responses during interviews. Examples from studies upon children's use of "don't know" responses during interviews will be drawn upon to illustrate key points. The implications of ignoring, encouraging, discouraging, and clarifying such responses will be presented. The negative influence of misleading questioning upon "don't know" response rates will also be discussed.

Witnesses with Learning Disabilities

Chair: Dr Derek Carson, University of Abertay

  • Defining the Role of the Appropriate Adult
    Dr Harriet Pierpoint (University of Glamorgan)
    Slides as a pdf file
    [128 Kb]

    Abstract: In England and Wales, an 'appropriate adult' should accompany a juvenile or mentally vulnerable suspect while he or she in police custody and is expected to give "advice and assistance" (Home Office, 2008, PACE Code C para 3.18). A comparable role exists in a number of other countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and Scotland. This paper will argue that the official definition of the role of the 'appropriate adult' is ambiguous and contradictory and has been socially constructed by the legislator, courts, the police, suspects and appropriate adults. However, it is the interpretation of the appropriate adults themselves which will most strongly impact on the suspects' experience of police detention and questioning. Hence, this paper will to consider the nature of the role in light of (1) the results of a case study of a volunteer appropriate adult service for young suspects (Pierpoint, 2001; 2004; 2006) and (2) the unpublished results of a recent survey of appropriate adult co-ordinators and professional appropriate adults for young and mentally vulnerable suspects. It will consider the implications of these findings for the definition of the role and future research. A discussion of the nature of the role is particularly timely in view of potential revisions to the role in the forthcoming consultation paper from the PACE Review and the PACE Review Board's comments.

  • Repeated questions and repeated interviews in forensic investigations with intellectually disabled victimsh
    Dr David La Rooy (University of Abertay Dundee and SIPR)
    PowerPoint
    [772 Kb]

    Abstract: This presentation examines the dynamics of forensic interviews with alleged victims of abuse who have intellectual disabilities and focuses on two current issues. First, what are the effects of asking repeated focused questions in forensic interviews? The results of forthcoming research reveal how the use of repeated focused questions by interviewers may contaminate reports because the answers changed 40% of the time. The practical implications for interviewers will be discussed. Second, what are the effects of repeating interviews with alleged victims who have intellectual disabilities? The results of recently published research show that 80% of the information provided in repeated interviews was new, previously undisclosed, information. Importantly, this new information did not appear to contradict information already provided in the earlier interview suggesting that repeated interviews may be a useful means of obtaining more detailed accounts. Practical issues surrounding the risks of repeated interviews and the use of repeated questions in interviews will be discussed.

  • Face recognition and description in people with mild learning disabilities
    Julie Gawrylowicz (University of Abertay Dundee and SIPR)
    PowerPoint
    [2.5 Mb]

    Abstract: During the present study, the ability of participants with mild learning disabilities (LD) to recognize and describe faces was compared to that of non-LD participants. The research comprised three old/new face-recognition tasks and two face-description tasks. LD participants also completed the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI). Face-recognition data revealed that participants with LD performed significantly less accurately on the old/new recognition tasks than their non-LD counterparts. Furthermore, during the description tasks participants with LD mentioned significantly less facial information than participants without LD. No correlations were obtained between the performance and IQ for participants with LD. The implications of these findings are discussed with reference to people with LD acting as witnesses in a legal setting.

Speakers and Chairmen
Speakers and Chairmen:
(l to r) Pierpoint, Clifford, Carson, Memon, La Rooy, Gawrylowicz, Scoboria, Havard