Police interview data in the England & Wales courtroom: routine contamination of evidence?

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Police investigative interviews are a vital part of the criminal justice process: they are an important part of the investigative evidence-gathering process, and in many jurisdictions will go on to form an important piece of evidence in court. The formal records of these interviews are therefore of great significance. In terms of how these records are used, in the England & Wales (E&W) context the legal framework is such that the credibility of a witness can be destroyed by counsel highlighting differences between what is said in court, and what was (recorded as being) said at interview. In a skilful cross-examination this can discredit their entire evidence, not just the often minor part which is (apparently) inconsistent. The effect can be devastating, especially for defendants, and so the accuracy of interview records is therefore crucial. Yet despite this, there are real causes for concern in the current treatment of E&W interview data and the methods by which interview records are produced. This paper argues that the data are (unintentionally) distorted and misinterpreted as they pass through the criminal justice system. In stark contrast to the strict principles of preservation applied to physical evidence, this paper will show that interview data go through significant alteration and “contamination” along the route from interview room to courtroom. They undergo various transformations in format, being converted between spoken and written modes and subject to various other processes along the way. Troublingly, the legal system treats all the different versions as unproblematic ‘copies’ of the original. This paper will critically examine this process, drawing on a corpus of police interview tapes and their official transcripts, courtroom transcripts, and the author’s own experiences as a barrister. It highlights the serious implications in terms of fairness to interviewees and interference with criminal evidence; something is which is currently unrecognised in the criminal justice system.
Period30 Sept 2015
Event titleInternational Conference on Law, Language and Discourse
Event typeConference
Conference number5
LocationÖrebro, SwedenShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational