The Police did trial video interviews a number of years ago to see whether playing a video of an interview at trial would have any impact on a Court or jury. When I used to work in North London there was a particular Police Station that was part of the Home Office pilot to test video interviews. The Police still have a code of practice governing how video interviews should be conducted, but, to my knowledge the Police rarely video interview suspects, if at all. The interviews that I dealt with that were video recorded were fairly useless - they consisted of drug addicts admitting to shoplifting matters, or youths denying being carried in stolen cars. I cannot recall a person being interviewed for a mildly serious offence. Each video would capture a view of the entire room, and a close up shot of the Client.
Most people assume that Police interviews are very exciting. They are not, they are usually very dull, unless you have either a very clever Police Officer of a very stupid Police Officer. The clever Police Officer will keep a solicitor on his toes by asking questions that are well thought out and are based on matters that have not really been disclosed in full before the interview started. The stupid Police Officer will ask repetitive questions that even the dimmest Client can answer with ease, or ask questions that are just so stupid that they become amusing. Over the past weekend I encountered a 'stupid' Police Officer:
Q: When you fell asleep how long were you asleep for?
A: I don't know. I was asleep.
Q: Did you look at the clock?
A: I fell asleep outside, there wasn't a clock.
Q: What happened when you were asleep?
A: I don't know as I was asleep.
Q: Were you aware of anything happening when you were asleep?
A: Jesus! I was asleep man! Why do you keep asking me questions about when I was asleep!?
I did watch a number of the video interviews that I had been present in. They were just as boring to watch as they were to be present in. I cannot see how anyone thought that these interviews would be good for a Court or jury to watch. I can understand the logic behind the idea of a Court or jury being able to see the reaction of a Defendant when answering a question, or how a Defendant answered a question in interview but the reality is that most defendants sit calmly in their interview and act rather calmly. It is rare for a defendant to do anything of note in interview such as say, "I'm bored of your questions, no comment," then pull their jumper over their head and say nothing more.
In the vast majority of cases the actual audio tapes of the interview are not played back to a Court anyway. The CPS will prepare a summary of what was said in the interview, that summary is served on the defence, and the defence agree the contents of the summary. When a case then goes to trial the summary of the interview is read by the Court so they do not have to sit through an entire interview from start to finish. In recent years I have not heard an interview tape played to a Court, and that is probably for several reasons:
- Most interviews have to be edited because the interview contains details that the Court should not know about. For example the defendant may have been arrested for multiple offences but is only being put on trial for one offence, or the defendant mentions the facts that they have been arrested before implying that they have previous convictions.
- Interviews can go on unnecessarily for a long time and it is easier to read an interview summary than hear the whole tape.
- A trial can be heard in a shorter period of time if the bench can simply read the interview instead of having to hear it.
Video interviews of suspects in my opinion were useless and will continue to be useless.