QMYOU Alumni Magazine Issue 85 - Page 17

How eye witness research could strengthen Scotland’s justice system Scotland is well placed to become a world leader in conducting eyewitness identifications P UBLIC CONFIDENCE IN Scotland’s justice system is essential for its efficiency and protecting people from crime is an ever-present concern for society. Yet, when mistakes occur, public confidence is eroded and the guilty can be free to commit further crimes. Dr Jamal Mansour, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at QMU, studies eyewitness memory. She said: “Eyewitnesses are extremely compelling to judges and jurors, regardless of their accuracy, and so it is critical that eyewitness evidence is obtained with the most reliable methods possible.” Since its inception in 1992, the Innocence Project, a US organisation that advocates on behalf of people who claim to be wrongfully convicted, has been instrumental in 349 exonerations based on DNA evidence. Over 70% of these wrongful convictions involved inaccurate eyewitness identification. Whilst some of those errors were deliberate, the National Exoneration Registry found that eyewitnesses mistakenly believed they had identified the criminal in 43% of 873 cases later resulting in exonerations in the US from 1989 to 2012. There are high profile examples closer to home too. Take William Mills from Glasgow who was arrested for stealing £8,216 from a Royal Bank of Scotland branch after four eyewitnesses identified him as the thief. The Police took him from his home at gunpoint as his children looked on. After six months in prison he was convicted and sentenced to nine years in jail. Luckily, DNA at the crime scene linked someone else to the crime and Mr Mills was eventually released. Dr Mansour believes that Scotland is well placed to become a world leader in conducting eyewitness identifications. She explained: “Partnerships between academics and the police are common and encouraged in Scotland, thanks to the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), a consortium of Scottish universities with the Police Service of Scotland, of which QMU is a member. Furthermore, following the recommendation in Lord Bonomy’s post-corroboration safeguards review, a national code of practice for identification is imminent. A national code, based on reliable scientific evidence, will promote the collection of reliable identification evidence. Also, having a national police force means consistent practice is achievable - compared to the US where identification policies and practices vary by city and state. process varies depending on the quality of their memory for the crime, and the way in which lineup members are presented.” She concluded: “Our work will provide unique insights into how identification procedures can be refined and could lead to further fine-tuning of the policies and practices for eyewitness identification in Scotland. Ultimately, this would result in fewer mistakes and greater public confidence in our criminal justice system.” Dr Olivia Sagan, Head of Psychology and Sociology at QMU, said: “Jamal’s work is an excellent example of the relevance of QMU’s research and how it can be applied to real life situations to improve processes and outcomes for organisations and individuals.” ❒ Already recognised for high quality research on face recognition, Scotland’s academics have a key role to play. Jamal is the only psychologist in Scotland whose focus is specifically on face recognition in the context of lineups. Funded by a grant from the American Psychology-Law Society, Jamal and her QMU team examine how people make decisions about lineups. She explained: “Specifically, we are measuring the extent to which an eyewitness’ decision making Dr Jamal Mansour QMYOU / Social Sciences 17