REV Has the Quality of Investigative Interviews with Children Improved with Changes in
Guidance? An Exploratory Study The Criminal Justice Act (1991) introduced new procedures for the gaining and giving of evidence by child complainants of abuse in England and Wales. In future, children were to be interviewed on camera by specialist police officers and social workers and these recordings would form the basis of their evidence in chief at any subsequent trial or hearing. This innovation sprang from concerns as to the ability of children to give their best evidence in open court and in the physical presence of the accused (Home Office, 2002). In 1999, under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, pre-recorded video interviews became one of a range of Special Measures potentially available to vulnerable witnesses of all ages aimed at improving the “completeness, coherence and accuracy” of their evidence (Ministry of Justice, 2011). A necessary adjunct to the original legislation was the publication of guidelines, setting out how interviews were to be conducted, which would be simultaneously investigative and evidential. The style of interview needed to be sensitive to children’s concerns and developmental level, but also consistent with the rules of evidence so as to be acceptable to the courts. As far as possible, the child should describe any abuse in their own words and the use of suggestive techniques and leading questions should be actively discouraged.
The Memorandum of Good Practice (Home Office, 1992) was drafted by a
psychologist (Ray Bull) and a lawyer (Diane Birch) and rapidly established itself as the core document for the training and guidance of interviewers (see Bull, 1996 for fuller details). It emphasised a phased approach involving four distinct phases. The first involved rapport building in which the ground rules for the interview are also introduced. These rules include the importance of telling the truth and of informing the interviewer if they do not understand a question or do not know the answer.
Following completion of this phase, the interviewer moves on to the free narrative phase, where the focus of the interview is raised through an indirect prompt, such as: ‘Do you know why you are here today?’ Explicitly raising the particular allegation with the child is actively discouraged due to concerns over the admissibility of any evidence obtained. The child is encouraged through active listening, to provide as much free narrative as possible relating to the issue of concern. When the child completes their spontaneous account, the third, questioning phase begins, with an initial emphasis on the use of open questions. Specific or closed (‘either/or’) questions are reserved for later in the interview, as open questions are known to yield more informative and reliable information than other forms of question. In the final
closure phase, the interviewer summarises what the child has said, using their own
words before offering reassurance and thanks (see Association of Chiefs of Police Officers, 2010 for further discussion of interview structure). The Memorandum was used by the police and social services in England and Wales for interviewing both child victims and witnesses for the next decade and its principles were widely copied in other countries (Lamb et al., 2008).
Research on Compliance with ‘Memorandum’ Requirements The use of video recording meant that a complete and permanent record was available of any interview conducted under the new legislation, which lent itself to research on the degree to which the guidelines were being implemented in practice. A number of studies were completed subsequently on samples of suitably anonymised transcripts of Memorandum interviews and these studies revealed a sometimes alarming discrepancy between what the Memorandum required and actual practice, The first such study conducted by Davies, Wilson, Mitchell and Milsom (1995) examined the content of some 40 interviews conducted by police officers with child sexual abuse complainants during the first two years of the original legislation. Rapport was generally well conducted, but contrary to the guidance, in 25% of cases the alleged offence was explicitly mentioned in this phase. All four phases of the interview were clearly present in just 30% of interviews, with the free narrative and closure phases being most often omitted. In the questioning phase, only 30% began with an open question and closed or specific questions predominated during most interviews. Rapport and closure rarely included all the recommended points being raised with the child.
Sternberg, Lamb, Davies and Westcott (2001) examined the content of 119
Memorandum interviews provided by 13 different police forces in England and Wales,
conducted with alleged victims of sexual abuse, aged 4 to 13 years, between 1994 and 1997. The same problems of adherence to guidelines persisted. In the Rapport phase, virtually all the interviewers emphasised the importance of telling the truth and around half mentioned that they should ask if they did not understand a question, but other ground rules were frequently omitted. Just over half the interviewers began the investigative phase with an open question, but afterward, specific or closed questions predominated: just 8% of the questions posed by interviewers were judged to be open.
The same sample of transcripts was also examined by Westcott and Kynan (2006) who reported some improvement in quality relative to the early sample studied by
Davies et al (1995). The different phases of the interview were generally present and in the recommended order; the free narrative phase was most often omitted. They confirmed that both the rapport and closure phases failed to include all the components recommended by the Memorandum.
A fresh sample of 100 forensic interviews of alleged sexual abuse victims aged 4-13 years, conducted by police officers in a constabulary in the British Midlands was examined by Lamb et al. (2009). Half the interviews were conducted under
Memorandum guidelines between 1999 and 2001, while the remainder followed
training with a new interview protocol developed by the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) in the US. The principles of the NICHD protocol are similar to those of the Memorandum, but the protocol encourages the child to initially practice remembering a non-offence-related incident from their lives to understand and internalise the requirements of an investigative interview before embarking on any account of abuse. Interviewers actively practice the use of semi- scripted open-ended questions (see Lamb et al., 2008 for further detail). Compared to the Protocol, the Memorandum transcripts showed proportionately fewer open-ended questions and more closed and leading questions. Information judged to be central to the investigation was more frequently elicited by the safer, open questions used in the Protocol, while the Memorandum interviews was more likely to yield the same information through other, less safe, forms of question.
‘Achieving Best Evidence’ By the turn of the new century, research and practice had revealed the need for significant revisions to the Memorandum. For instance, it was perceived as encouraging a ‘one size fits all’ approach, underplaying the importance of the age and level of intellectual development of the child in deciding on style of interview (Davies & Westcott, 1999). These concerns coincided with the government initiative to extend the availability of Special Measures, including video interviewing, to all vulnerable witnesses and thus offered the opportunity to develop revised and comprehensive guidelines on interviewing and on safeguarding witnesses at court. Achieving Best
Evidence in Criminal Proceedings (or ABE) superseded the Memorandum (Home
Office, 2002); through successive revisions (Home Office, 2007; Ministry of Justice, 2011), it remains the official guidance designed for all personnel who deal with vulnerable witnesses, not just police officers and social workers, but all court professionals. As regard interviewing style, while the new guidance acknowledged that other types of interview might be appropriate in certain circumstances (including the Cognitive Interview), its main emphasis remained on the phased approach advocated by the
Memorandum. However, it followed the NICHD protocol in emphasising the value of
open questions and including some scripted elements, particularly for the ground-rule and closure phases. In order to attempt greater compliance with its recommendations, the new guidance was accompanied with a training pack emphasizing its distinctive features and uses with different groups of vulnerable witnesses (Welsh Assembly Government, 2004). The most recent version of ABE, revised in the light of the Coroners and Justices Act, 2009 (Ministry of Justice, 2011), gives additional guidance designed to provide a more supportive environment for the child and introduces a distinction between the traditional role of the interview-to elicit the witness’s account- and additional questions concerning case-specific information to assist in police investigations.
To date, no published research has specifically evaluated the impact of ABE on investigative interviewing and whether it has had any positive impact on the conduct of interviews seen by the courts. The current exploratory study compares samples of investigative interviews with child witnesses conducted prior to and subsequent to the implementation of ABE guidelines. It investigates whether the progressive developments in the investigative interviewing of child witnesses recommended by the ABE have led to changes or improvements in aspects of interviewing practice relative to interviews conducted under the Memorandum.
Interview Samples In this study, 25 transcripts from investigative interviews of alleged child abuse victims and witnesses from 10 Police Constabularies throughout England were examined. Of these interviews 13 were conducted between 1993 and 1998 in accordance with the Memorandum and the remainder between 2002 and 2009 under
ABE guidelines. The transcripts had all figured in proceedings conducted in the
Family Courts in relation to child custody matters. Ethical approval was granted on the basis that all of the interviews were thoroughly redacted by the second investigator. This included the removal of all personal identifiers and any reference to dates, individuals or places. This procedure ensured that ethical requirements were upheld and also that the first researcher was blind to the guidelines under which each interview took place. The Memorandum sample consisted of interviews with three males and ten females (average age 9.9 years; SD = 2.7) with a range between four and 14 years, while the ABE sample was made up of four males and eight females
(average age 10.4 years; SD = 3.2) and ranged between five and 16 years. The average age of the combined data set was 10.2 years (SD = 2.9).
Procedure An interview analysis form was constructed, detailing the four recommended phases of the interview, common to both the MOGP and ABE guidelines, together with the relevant components of these phases. The first investigator then documented whether each phase and its component parts were present and whether the phases occurred in the recommended order. In addition, in the free narrative phase, the word count was recorded and the relevant content analysed, using a technique initially developed by Yuille and Cutshall (1989) to measure the amount of forensically relevant information about the accused, other individuals, objects and relevant events spontaneously mentioned by the child. Within the questioning phase, analyses were conducted on the types of question employed. Following Lamb et al. (2008, 2009), five categories of question were identified: open- ended prompts; specific questions; closed questions; option-posing questions, and leading questions and suggestions. As a check on rater reliability, a sample of four transcripts was independently coded by another investigator who was provided only with the coding form, together with an explanation of each utterance type and the four phase approach. The two raters showed 79% agreement on the categorisation of interview utterances and 88% agreement for the four phased approach interview analysis.
In order to compare interviews conducted under the Memorandum and the ABE, the completed rating forms were assigned by interview type and statistical comparisons conducted on the selected performance indicators. In addition, where permissible, the data were collapsed across interview type and correlations run to establish any relationships with age of the child or date of the interview. Major findings are described below, while a complete analysis is reported in Hill (2011). Presence of the Four Interview Phases Among the 13 Memorandum interviews, only three interviews contained all four interview phases and only two did so in the recommended order. A Questioning phase was present in all interviews and Free Narrative in all but one. However, Closure (present in four interviews) and Rapport (seven) were frequently omitted. The ABE provides a checklist of the phases and an explanation as to the desirability of following the recommended sequence. In this sample, however, there was little sign of any positive change: only three of the 12 interviews were judged to contain all four phases, of which two did so in the recommended order. Questioning again figured in all interviews, and Free Narrative was present in only eight. As before, Rapport (present in eight) and Closure (five) were again frequently omitted. Irrespective of the type of guidance employed, more complete and ordered interviews were associated with older children, F(3,21) = 3.908, p < 0.05. Ground Rules Both the Memorandum and ABE guidance require interviewers to cover the same ground rules with the child in the Rapport phase, but the latter provides an explicit checklist, as well as a suggested script to enable the interviewer to cover these points. Scrutiny of the transcripts showed that the ABE interviews included a median of three ground rules, but the corresponding figure for the Memorandum interviews was zero (eight of the 13 interviews failed to mention a single ground rule to the child). An analysis of ground rules completed confirmed a significant difference in proportion
between the two sets of
interviews, t (23) = -2.598, p < 0.05, suggesting the new guidance had had a positive impact.
A key feature of the Rapport phase- evaluating whether the child understands the differences between truth and a lie-was amended in the ABE. The Memorandum had been inexplicit as to how this understanding should be assessed: the technique most frequently employed involved a simple misstatement (for example: ‘I’m wearing white socks. If I said I was wearing blue socks would that be the truth or a lie?’). The new guidance offers age-appropriate story scenarios, involving deliberate attempts to deceive, with negative consequences for the person lied against. Nearly all the transcripts in both sets of transcripts examined truth and lies (the sole exception was a four year-old child in the Memorandum series). The new Guidance appeared to have been effective in changing interviewer behaviour: only one of the Memorandum interviews used a story scenario compared to nine (75%) of the ABE interviews. By contrast, seven (54%) of the Memorandum interviews used the ‘misstatement’ approach compared to just three (25%) of the ABE interviews. Free Narrative In attempting to elicit free narrative, both sets of guidance advise the use of prompts to ensure children raise the matter of concern spontaneously and warn against raising the specific allegation directly with the child. The recommended approach was judged to have been achieved in eight (62%) of the Memorandum interviews and eight (67%) of the ABE interviews. In one of the Memorandum interviews, the interviewer raised the allegation directly with the child and in another ABE interview, the interviewer raised the matter by reference to what another child had said, both tactics specifically cautioned against in the Guidance. No free narrative was present in one of the
Memorandum interviews and two of the ABE interviews; all involved children aged
between four and six years. Where free narrative was provided, children showed wide differences in the amount of forensically relevant information given: from five to 252 items for the Memorandum interviews and between six and 136 for the ABE; there was no statistically difference between the two samples in this respect.
Questioning Phase The ABE guidance differs from the Memorandum in placing a general emphasis upon the value of using open-ended questions, but does not assume that interviewers will be able to move consistently from open, through specific, finally to closed questions (the so-called ‘funnel’ approach). Results from the question-type analysis were disappointing in this respect: 7.4% of questions asked were open on average in the
Memorandum interviews compared to 8.1% in the ABE, an improvement which does
not approach significance. The most common forms of question remain specific (Memorandum: 40.1%; ABE 41.9%) and closed (Memorandum: 45.5%; ABE 42.5%), but interviewers generally avoided leading or suggestive questions (Memorandum: 3.1%; ABE 4.5%). Analysis of question form and the year in which the interview was conducted showed no significant relationship, suggesting that within this sample, style of questioning in interviews appears not to have changed significantly since the introduction of the process. Additionally, in two of the Memorandum, but none of the
ABE interviews, the interviewer consistently implied a negative character to the accused, a strategy which is specifically cautioned against in both sets of guidance.
Closure Phase While there are no differences in the general guidance on the closure phase between the Memorandum and ABE guidance, the latter explicitly codifies the issues to be covered and stresses the value of summarising what the child has said, using their own words and terms, and asking whether they have anything further to add. Both sets of interviews generally included a request for further information (Memorandum: 11 or 85%; ABE: ten or 83%) but far fewer included an appropriate summary (Memorandum: four or 31%; ABE: five or 42%), or encouraged the child to ask any residual questions about the process (Memorandum: three or 23%; ABE: one or 8%).
This study provides a first snapshot of the impact of Achieving Best Evidence on interview practice with children since the new guidance was introduced in 2002.
On the basis of the developments in guidance, together with the introduction of new training materials (Welsh Assembly Government, 2004), it was predicted that ABE interviews would be superior to those conducted in accordance with the
Memorandum guidelines. However, if these samples are representative of
investigative interviews in general, then while improvements may have occurred, these appear specific and limited. Many of the problems highlighted in earlier research on the Memorandum, remain unresolved. Most interviews examined here still failed to include all four phases of the interview and this omission was particularly marked with younger witnesses. Relative to the
Memorandum sample, there was no marked improvement in the ABE interviews,
despite the explicit and prescriptive guidance offered in successive editions of the guidance (Hone Office, 2002; 2007; Ministry of Justice, 2011) and echo those found by Davies et al. (1995) among the first sample of interviews conducted under the new legislation.
The rapport phase of the Memorandum and ABE interviews rarely contained all of the recommended components, a weakness which had been noted earlier ( Davies et al., 1995; Westcott & Kynan, 2006), However, the ABE sample did show a significant improvement in the proportion of recommended ground rules imparted to the child, suggesting that the inclusion of an explicit checklist and scripting had been effective in increasing compliance by interviewers with this particular recommendation.
Likewise, the findings regarding truth and lies were also encouraging, with a major swing away from the misstatement approach of the Memorandum, toward story scenarios emphasising the negative impact on others of lying, as endorsed in the ABE. However, a minority of ABE interviews still persisted in using the misstatement approach, which could have a negative impact on the perceived credibility of the child’s testimony (Westcott & Kynan, 2006). In contrast to earlier reports (Davies et al., 1995; Westcott & Kynan, 2006), the eliciting of free narrative in a manner compatible with legal and guidance requirements was generally well achieved in both the Memorandum and ABE samples. There were, however, two glaring mistakes-raising the allegation directly with the child and citing the allegation of another child-which might have resulted in the interview being withdrawn at trial. Where the child did not spontaneously mention the source of concern at interview, effective methods included initiating discussion of particular family or neighbourhood groups the child knew or where this was unsuccessful, asking the child which individuals within the given group the child liked or disliked and their reasons for this. While mentioning an earlier statement made by the child is permissible under the guidance, there is a concern that this will be represented at trial as the child recalling their earlier allegation, rather than their initial memory of the events.
When the invitation for free narrative was delivered, most children responded positively. The only failures occurred among the youngest children. Recent research suggests that while some children of this age are developmentally capable of extended free narrative, many are not and give more information in response to specific but non-leading questions (Hershkowitz et al., 2012). Where children did respond positively, the amount of information spontaneously volunteered varied greatly in both the Memorandum and ABE interviews. Given the weight attached by the guidance and the courts to free narrative, further research should examine what aspects of the interview, apart from the age of the child, predict the amount of free narrative volunteered.
Despite the recommendation in the Memorandum and even more emphatically in the
ABE, few open questions were asked by interviewers in the questioning phase. This
failure to use invitational prompts had also been reported by Davies et al. (1995) and Sternberg et al. (2001). There was no significant rise in the proportion of open questions from the MOGP to the ABE interviews. Instead, this phase was dominated by specific and closed questions, consistent with earlier published analyses (Davies et al., 1995; Lamb et al., 2009; Sternberg et al., 2001; Westcott & Kynan, 2006).
However, leading questions formed a gratifyingly small proportion of the total questionings posed.
Turning to closure, this phase was adjudged to be incompletely conducted in over half of both the Memorandum and ABE interviews. It is possible that some of the closure components may have been completed off camera (Westcott and Kynan, 2006). However, the current findings do replicate earlier research in suggesting this phase is less effectively achieved in investigative interviewing (Davies et al., 2005; Westcott & Kynan, 2006). The absence of a closure component has implications for the perceived credibility of the child witness, their future well-being and a lost opportunity to identify gaps and clarify inconsistencies (Westcott & Kynan, 2006).
In summary, while the successive versions of the ABE appear to have improved some aspects of investigative intervening, other shortcomings are a source of continuing concern. Short-term training programmes appear to have little demonstrable impact on interviewer behaviour: even when interviewers can articulate how they should conduct an interview, research suggests they fail to put this knowledge into practice (Aldridge & Cameron, 1999). The reasons for this are still unclear but deserve further research. What seems to be required is longer-term support and training through continuing expert supervision and constructive feedback on performance (Aldridge & Wood, 2000; Davies et al., 1998; Powell, 2008).
This research complements earlier studies in demonstrating the continuing gulf between the recommendations of the existing guidance and the actual performance of interviewers, a gulf which will be raised at court whenever a recorded interview forms a central feature in family or criminal proceedings (Davis et al., 1999). The existing study cannot pretend to be anything other than indicative: it employs a small sample of the several thousands of such interviews with children conducted each year (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, 2012). Additionally, the sample is not a cross- section of interviews, but rather, a minority which were actually used in the civil courts. The significance of this unique feature of this study is also difficult to interpret: these interviews could be considerably better or even worse quality than average, in that the defence may have raised issues over their conduct. The study necessarily used anonymised transcripts and readily quantifiable indices. It cannot identify more elusive factors which make for a successful interview, including non- verbal content-the behaviour of interviewer and child- and the impact this may have on the quality of evidence elicited.
These limitations highlight the need for systematic research that investigates the implementation of the recommended ABE guidelines and the associated training needs. This should ensure that child witnesses are supported and interviewed in the most appropriate manner by skilled interviewers, increasing well-being for the child, enabling them to provide their best evidence, and ensuring that the ends of justice are met.
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