Investigating the impact of conducting police interviews during a pandemic

Researchers are to examine how Covid-19 regulations have impacted police interviews.

The 18-month study will examine what differences the use of telephone or video calls, as opposed to face to face participation, has on the fairness and effectiveness of police interviews, carried out with witnesses, victims and suspects of crime.

RESEARCH police interviews
De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)'s Professor Dave Walsh is part of the £320,000 programme, which is led by academics from Northumbria University, and involves Sunderland University, and global criminal justice watchdog Fair Trials, as well as national and international police organisations.

Professor Walsh, Professor in Criminal Investigation at DMU Law School, said: “The understandable speedy responses to the pandemic in terms of interviewing victims and suspects need now an examination to see whether such measures have helped, or made it more difficult, for victims to supply the police with necessary details.

"Likewise, can suspects’ lawyers advise their suspects as effectively when they are not in the same room?”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been major changes to the format of traditional police interviews and other interactions, which were previously carried out in person and usually in a police station.

Many police forces have instead turned to digital communications, carrying out video interviews with victims, while professionals such as lawyers have provided support to suspects by phone or video rather than in person in the police station.

However, there has been limited research to date on the impact of this move to remote communication on witnesses, victims and suspects, and on how best to conduct interviews in this way.

The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of the UK Research and innovation’s rapid response to coronavirus.

Their findings will highlight the impact of remote communication on the fairness and effectiveness of police interviews during the current pandemic and inform lasting changes, both to the way police undertake interviews and the legal system.  

The experiences of partner organisations including the College of Policing, the National Police Chiefs Council, the Norwegian Police University College, the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, the National Appropriate Adults Network and national UK police forces will also provide valuable insight for the research team.

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Jago Russell, Chief Executive of Fair Trials, said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, most lawyers have decided to stay away from police stations, preferring to advise their clients by phone or video. We urgently need to understand what impact this shift is having on suspects and on the fairness and reliability of the evidence being given to police.”

Evidence collected during the research will be used to draw up recommendations for any future proposed use of remote interviews, including during future pandemic situations, ensuring standardisation across the global policing and law enforcement community.

Posted on Monday 16 November 2020

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