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Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland

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APPENDIX C: Benefits of visually recording the interview

There are many benefits of visually recording compared to taking contemporaneous verbatim written notes of an interview, many of which the Lord Advocate's Working Group identified (Plotnikoff & Woolfson, 2001 and see also Reid Howie Associates, 2002 and Richards et al 2007):

  • the recordings increase fairness and transparency for all parties, showing how information was obtained;
  • visual records provide a complete, accurate record of an investigative interview, which includes exact words, body language, tone of voice, demeanour and non-verbal communication by the interviewer, child and anyone else present;
  • during the interview, the interviewer and second interviewer are freed from having to make detailed notes, allowing them to maximise their focus on the child and on the gathering of information;
  • using the technology also offers further possibilities, such as siting the second interviewer outside the interview room;
  • for such reasons, visual recording has the potential to improve the experience of the interview for the child and interviewers;
  • research supports the view that interviewing a child once, as soon after disclosure or expression of concerns as possible, is likely to capture the most accurate information, so recording the interview improves the quality of evidence;
  • conversely, multiple interviews have been found to have a potentially harmful effect on the child and on evidential quality. Multiple interviews can be a significant source of stress for the child and can result in the child's evidence changing over time;
  • recordings have the potential to reduce the number of times children are interviewed;
  • after being produced in an investigation, recordings can be used in other settings to safeguard children, such as in the referral of a case to other social work ( SW) teams;
  • recordings can be used by other agencies in the course of legal proceedings. They may reduce the level of detail needed in precognitions by the procurator fiscal ( PF) and may help eliminate the need for precognitions by defence agents and by children's reporters;
  • the viewing of a child's evidence and their demeanour by defence agents before court proceedings begin has the potential to encourage early pleas;
  • there is the possibility of using high quality visual recordings as evidence-in-chief in court and in children's hearing court proceedings;
  • visual recordings allow not only an assessment of the reliability and credibility of the witness to be made by professionals throughout the justice system, but in the case of a recording being shown in court, by the sheriff or judge and jury, especially in the new context of courts not being required to conduct competency testing; and
  • recordings are a highly effective tool for investigative interviewers and their supervisors to use in reviewing and assessing performance, for consolidation of good practice and professional development.

Research ( e.g. Warren & Woodall, 1999) shows that professional interviewers tend to misremember the questions they asked in an interview even when questioned immediately after the interview. This can have serious consequences if an interviewer obtained a response from a child as a result of asking a leading or misleading question but failed to remember that.

In England and Wales, visual recording has been used for some time and has been evaluated. Research into videotaped children's evidence has indicated no significant difference in the proportion of guilty verdicts from juries viewing videotaped evidence as opposed to hearing evidence from the child in person (Davies et al, 1995).

Child witnesses who have given evidence in court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have found having video-recorded statements useful, and they also found it helpful, if sometimes distressing, to watch the recording to refresh their memory (Hamlyn et al, 2004 and Plotnikoff & Woolfson, 2005). Although some judicial respondents in another evaluation felt a conviction was less likely with recorded evidence in chief, no prosecutors claimed lower conviction rates because of using video recordings (Burton et al, 2006).