The reform “A More Modern Trial” will come into force at courts in Sweden in autumn 2008. According to the reform, use of new technology such as video conferences will increase when examining witnesses. Furthermore, all questioning in district courts will be recorded on video to enable verbal evidence to be replaced in the court of appeal if an appeal is entered.
– The reform does not take into account the forensic psychology research that shows that a witness is perceived differently depending on whether he or she makes a physical appearance in front of the sitting court, via video conference, or through an examination recorded on video, says Sara Landström who is studying for a doctorate at the Department of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg.
Sara Landström has examined the psychological effects of different presentation formats, including physical presence, video conference and video recording of questioning. The dissertation reveals that persons who receive information from a ”live” witness make a more positive assessment of the witness than those who are acquainted with the same testimony via video.
Adult witnesses are perceived to be more sympathetic when they have been seen ”live”, compared with when they appear on video. Child witnesses are also judged in more positive terms, e.g. as more convincing, when they testified ”live”. The fact that there is a more negative perception of witnesses when they testify on video might be due to there being no direct experience of the witness.
One way of remedying this is to use video conferences, which offer the possibility of a direct experience of witnesses without them having to be physically present in the courtroom. The dissertation shows that children who gave evidence via video conferencing were evaluated in more positive terms than children whose evidence was relayed via a video recording.
– That the testimony is given ”here and now” appears to have a more positive effect on the person doing the evaluating than a recorded video, says Sara Landström.
The dissertation also demonstrates that the experience of a child recorded on video is perceived differently depending on the camera’s location and distance. A child that is shown full-length produced a more positive and natural impression than the same child shown in close-up.
– This is worrying as children under 15 generally give evidence via a video recording of the questioning, and there are currently no fixed guidelines as to how video interrogations are to be recorded, says Sara Landström.
According to Sara Landström, the use of video conferencing and video recordings can entail much that is good, such as more people daring to give evidence in sensitive cases. However, she emphasises that these techniques should be used with care.
– Careless use can lead to a party being systematically disadvantaged. Despite the fact that video recordings are going to replace verbal evidence in the court of appeal, it is likely that some witnesses will still be heard ”live” in the court of appeal. These witnesses might then have a greater influence on the sitting court than witnesses that are presented on video.
Dissertation title: CCTV, Live and Videotapes: How Presentation Mode Affects the Evaluation of Witnesses.
Time and location for the disputation: Friday 16 May 2008, 10.00, Room F1, Department of Psychology,
Haraldsgatan 1, Göteborg.