Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Video Recording of Interviews

This is an amusing video of a 'mock' Police video with a suspect:

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:

  1. 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.

  2. Interviews can go on unnecessarily for a long time and it is easier to read an interview summary than hear the whole tape.

  3. 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.


Howard Wilson said...

The most notorious video interview that I've seen recently was that of Barry George, I must confess that I experienced some sympathy for him.

I only have limited personal experience of being interviewed by the Police;when I was arrested in August, I followed my solicitor's advice and gave a short statement followed by a "no comment" interview. Now my statement basically said that I had never entered into a contract with the person who had made the allegation and my solicitor told me that the two coppers and duty sergeant were in a bit of a flap, as it appeared that they had arrested the wrong person and they were preparing a mass of simlar and pointless questions along the lines of those you have quoted, in fact it took them about 45 minutes to do so and we already told the idiots that we would be giving a "no comment" interview! STUPID PIGS!
As the valueless interview progressed it appeared that one question had been incorrectly worded or written as the plonk tried to restructure the question as she spoke resulting in a meaningless dribble of nonsense, to which I replied "Your question didn't make any sense 1148, rather than repeating it and prolonging this, can we accept that I will answer 'NO COMMENT'"? and I smiled pleasantly and the plonk smiled back. Now the Plod accompanying this Plonk clearly saw some opportunity to discredit me and said "Do you find something funny? As you seem to be laughing", to which I replied "I see no humour in this ridiculous charade 351"! gave him a big smile and I then spent the rest of the stupid interview staring straight at the plod and smiling irritatingly. I think it got to him as his jaw tightened, nostrils flared and he sat forward in more aggressive posture. I did get chided by my solicitor afterwards for baiting the bastard though, she said that was her job!
If this has been on video, it would have demonstrated to a court that I was relaxed and submissive, whereas on tape this goon might have been able to discredit me. I wonder how often this occurs?

Anonymous said...

There is of course the vital exception of deaf or otherwise signing suspects, for whom a video taped interview is VITAL... something that sometimes police forget once they get their interpreter.

Anonymous said...

I did a video interview a while back... police were getting carried away if you ask me. Tape recorded disclosure and then videoed the interview (video recorder ate one of the tapes anyway).

Howard makes a good point. It can be easy for the police to discredit somebody on an audio tape. I've dealt with a few cases where the police have tried the tactic of accusing the suspect of laughing. On one occasion, the policeman said my client was laughing (I couldn't say because I wasn't looking at her). His colleague confirmed that she was laughing... I could say something about that though, because I'd been looking straight at the colleague and knew that he'd been doodling on his notepad!! I pointed it out and the policeman went very red and looked very stupid.

Anonymous said...

What concerns me a little is that the ROTI sometimes bears little relationship to the taped interview itself. I was in court once when the magistrates asked to hear the taped interview after reading the supposedly accurate hard copy. Crucial evidence for the defence had been missed out of the ROTI and a different slant put on those answers which were recorded. Makes you think!

Howard Wilson said...

I can see that in some instances video recordings could assist a prosecution, that would be in getting the unprepared reaction of a suspect to evidence.

Unknown said...

iRecord is a digital video recording and management system for interview rooms

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