Research spanning 25 years has changed the way police interview witnesses, the conduct of video parades and the treatment of vulnerable witnesses in court.
- Professor Amina Memon's research into eyewitness memory laid the foundation for key police investigative interviewing protocols and training, including:
- She took the lead in evaluating and adapting a tool for eliciting detailed eyewitness information known as the Cognitive Interview from child witnesses, and this now forms part of the national training for all police officers and is advocated in 20 countries worldwide.
- Professor Memon is responsible for the Scottish Executive's Guidance on Interviewing Child Witnesses in Scotland (2003) and the Code of Practice to Facilitate the Provision of Therapeutic Support to Child Witnesses in Court Proceedings (2005).
- Between 2003-2007 she trained all family court judges in Scotland on how to interview child witnesses.
- Her work on video identification parades, together with the development of standardised guidance on procedures, provided an evidence base to support the implementation of this new technology in Scotland, England and Wales.
- Her joint research into procedures for interviewing individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder led to the creation of a national working group on Autism in the Criminal Justice System.
- She has delivered research-based training to NGOs including Asylum Aid and Freedom from Torture to improve the reliability and credibility of witness reports.
- In 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, cited the UK investigative interviewing approach as an exemplary example of good practice and proposed its global use.
"Without Professor Memon's research and steadfast commitment for over a quarter of a century the world of the vulnerable witness would be a bleaker place." (Ian G Hynes, Trustee of the National Working Group for Child Sexual Exploitation)
About the research
In the 1990s children were frequently not viewed as competent witnesses. "They were either 'over-believed' or considered too easily influenced," says Professor Amina Memon.
Today it's widely accepted that adopting a planned approach combined with the right interview techniques can help even the most vulnerable of witnesses, including very young children and the elderly, to recall reliable information. The change in attitudes is largely due to Professor Memon's research with these groups. Her research underpinned the shift by police during the 1990s from an accusatory to investigatory way of gathering evidence.
"Based on what we know about how memory works, it's possible to conduct interviews that focus on the strengths of a witness and help them to open up and give a detailed, accurate account, while minimising the risks of gathering unreliable information that can lead to miscarriages of justice," she explains.
While much of her early work focused on developing interview techniques that worked with young children, she later discovered that the cognitive interview could also boost older people's ability to recall accurately. More recently she has played a key role in informing courts about the problems of lengthy time delays between investigation and trial in cases in which young children are involved.
While her work improves justice for victims and witnesses, ultimately it benefits everyone involved in the criminal justice system – police, judiciary, the general public and suspects.
Standardised and evidence-based processes mean the police are less likely to see their evidence challenged in court. Judges and juries are better able to reach the correct verdict as a result of more reliable evidence, and suspects are less likely to be wrongly accused. "Overall it means we can all have greater confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of criminal justice," Professor Memon says.