Events, FCRG, Forensic Psychology, Open Psychology Research Centre, Student news

In Dialogue with Professor Graham Pike about his Talk at the OPRC Launch Event

‘Harmful Evidence and Evidencing Harm in the Criminal Justice System’

Eka: What’s this talk all about, Graham?

Graham: We generally think of the courts and police as existing to prevent and prosecute crimes. In my talk I borrow an approach from critical criminology and instead look at law enforcement in terms of the harms it can cause, particularly by producing inaccurate evidence that can lead to miscarriages of justice.

Eka: Very interesting Graham. How did you get interested in this topic?

Graham: I have always been struck by the incongruity that an institution so concerned with evidence, routinely employs procedures that are not themselves evidence based, and indeed ignores evidence from research demonstrating there are significant problems. Moreover, psychological research has not only found serious flaws in standard criminal justice procedures, it has also offered some effective, and fairly simple, solutions. There seems to me something desperately tragic about those who are convicted of a crime they did not commit, who are harmed by state agencies designed to protect the innocent. My interest is born of wanting to help those people and of preventing further egregious, yet eminently preventable, miscarriages of justice.

Eka: Yes, I think many people would relate to experiences like that. So how do you research something like this, and specifically, how do you research it in relation to psychological science?

Graham: My own research tends to employ psychological experiments designed to test the cognitive abilities (attention and memory for example) of witnesses, and a mixture of lab and field experiments to see how this cognition stands up to the demands of producing evidence in a criminal investigation. It is, therefore, located firmly within the realm of psychological science. However, this form of psychological science has proven very hard to translate into changes in practice, so I also use methods, such as interviewing and archival analysis, to produce data gained direct from the ‘real world’ of policing practice. I also work in close collaboration with policing practitioners as much as I can, both, because this helps enormously in bringing about changes in practice, but also because their perspective is very useful in exploring the relevant issues from different angles.

Eka: That’s great, but why are those results important?

Graham: As my research is applied, it can, and has, made a significant and noticeable difference to the experiences and lives of those who find themselves within the criminal justice system, whether victims, witnesses or suspects. For example, my work on visual identification procedures not only helped avoid the production of evidence likely to lead to a misidentification, but also to the development of procedures far less stressful for victims and witnesses. In addition, my research has helped develop new computer systems for creating a likeness of a suspect designed to make the most of human cognition and other work has drawn attention to the harm that law enforcement can do to the police themselves.

Eka: So, what’s next in this line of research?

Graham: My talk presents the findings from some recent studies, including some as yet unpublished, that tackle law enforcement in the digital age. This includes hybrid forensic systems that utilise machine learning and teams of experts, and the impact that social media has had on criminal investigations, particularly the phenomena of ‘web sleuths’. The digital is becoming ever more important in law enforcement, and I hope to continue the tradition of psychological research by not only finding the harms that might be caused by new, digital investigative techniques, but by developing potential solutions as well.

Eka: Thank you Graham for this very interesting and insightful discussion.

Please see below the original blog about Graham’s talk and the link to the recorded talk.


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