Spotting the real villains

line-upAs South Australia prepares to overhaul legislation regulating criminal identification parades, Flinders psychologist Professor Neil Brewer, an international expert on factors affecting eyewitness reliability, is backing a move to photographic, computer-based line-ups.

“South Australia has a unique chance to set world standards,” Professor Brewer said.

Professor Brewer will present a public lecture at 5.30pm on May 10 at Flinders University Victoria Square on “Mistaken identity: How to use police line-ups to nab the bad guy, not the good guy”.

The mixed record of accurate identification from line-ups has profound consequences for the criminal justice system, and the lecture’s primary audience will be prosecution and defence lawyers, police, judges and magistrates.

“The lecture will be a distillation of what the research field in general tells us about things that affect the likelihood of eyewitness identification accuracy and what you should do to improve things; and there are a lot of things you can do to reduce the chances of error at an identification test,” Professor Brewer said.

Research evidence suggests that adopting line-ups that using photographs in a computer presentation can be effective in reducing errors of identification.

“There is a mistaken belief that a live line-up is more likely to secure an accurate identification; there are good reasons for believing this, but sadly the evidence doesn’t support it,” Professor Brewer said.

One of the chief advantages of photographic line-ups is that they can be organised quickly before eyewitness memory weakens and decays. The availability of large databases is also a plus, although Professor Brewer warns that the rules of constructing a “good” line-up still need to be understood.

“Some of the factors that affect an effective line-up are obvious, but some are not intuitive,” he said.

Professor Brewer will outline “best practice”, starting from the description a witness provides and the selection of line-up members through to the instructions a witness should be given and the recording of a witness’s responses.

People interested in attending the lecture can register at www.flinders.edu/events

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