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Audio-visual recording – a key safeguard during interrogations

admin - June 11, 2019 - Children, Audio-visual recording, Coercion, Torture

 

11 June 2019 is the transposition deadline for the new EU law on Children’s Rights. This new law introduced the requirement for audio-visual recording of interrogations of children. (The law, EU Directive 2016/800, also recommends recording for vulnerable suspects). The occasion provides an opportunity to consider the effect that audio-visual recording can have on interrogations:

Audio-visual recording of interrogations can serve as a key safeguard in criminal proceedings, especially for vulnerable suspects and children. During interrogation, suspects can be at risk of mistreatment or even torture, and there are big challenges in determining what actually happened, even with a lawyer present. This suits nobody, given it can result in delayed trials or prosecutions, unfair convictions and serious human rights abuses remaining unexposed.

Last week, Fair Trials hosted a discussion event which considered exactly this issue, bringing together experts from across Europe. Ingrid Breit from the European Commission, Andrew Griffiths, a former UK police officer and expert in investigative interviewing, and Coosje Peterse, a criminal defence lawyer from the Netherlands, joined a panel moderated by Fair Trials’ CEO Jago Russell, to discuss audio-visual recording of interrogations and how it can protect vulnerable suspects and children in criminal proceedings.

In the UK, it has been mandatory to record all interviews since 1986. “A lot of vulnerabilities are invisible. That’s in part why all the interviews are recorded,” Andrew Griffiths said. “The reputation of police was very poor in the 1970s and 1980s because of abuse of suspects. The approach was about preventing miscarriages and building trust. The legislation was very farsighted and still stands up. It was a significant step forward, balancing the rights of the police and the rights of the suspect.”

The Children Directive has recently been implemented in the Netherlands, but it is believed that this protection is needed only in severe cases. Coosje Peterse, who has extensive experience in working with child defendants, emphasised the usefulness of audio-visual recording and the importance of having a lawyer present. She said: “The presence of lawyers increases the quality of the interrogations. Their role is not only to check on coercion but also to check if questions and answers are understood. That cannot be checked at a later stage, even on recording.” Audio-visual recording is even more important during witness interviews that happen without a lawyer.

When asked about whether cameras intimidate children, she explained that it depends on where the camera is and if it is explained why it is there, but also pointed out that more generally children are more used to cameras. “The camera might be more intimidating for the police officer and the lawyer, when it reminds them about their role.”

Children do not often understand the questions they are being asked or the possible consequences, creating an increased risk of violation of procedural rights – this is why the European Commission included the provision of audio-visual recording into the Children Directive. Ingrid Breit discussed some resistance to obligatory audio-visual recording: “The arguments considered cost issues, lack of experience and equipment, and the fact that it might be intimidating for children." We know that during the negotiations the European Parliament was very supportive and in favour of the provision. The current Article 9, which requires recording if it's proportionate, is a compromise.

Member States had three years to adopt the Directive, but the development so far has not been satisfactory: only five Member States have notified complete transposition, others partial transposition and some haven’t done it at all.

The speakers agreed that the issue with audio-visual recording is a generational one – most of the criminal justice professionals are used to using paper while the younger generation is comfortable with the newest technology. Today, the technology that is needed for audio-visual recording is not highly expensive and is fairly easy to use. The law requiring audio-visual recording is a starting point, but it needs lawyers, police officers and judges to use it and demand its use. Considering all its benefits, we hope that audio-visual recording will be established for all suspects more broadly in the future.

Find out more about Fair Trials work on audio-visual recording here.

 

The event was made possible thanks to financial support from the Justice Programme of the European Union.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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