Young Scientists and Visual Identification Evidence

I am, alas, neither young nor a scientist, but someone in the family is both, and we spent this evening at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS. Running since 1965, the exhibition is an annual competition for encouraging interest in science in Irish schools. This year’s exhibtion appealed hugely to the geek in me, as it always does. Media reports have focussed on the bebo projects featured in the photos, but there was far more to it than that: 500 competitors and whole host of supporting exhibitors, serving up a veritable feast for the eyes and mind.

I particuarly enjoyed a student web-radio station, a plagiarism detection tool, and two visual identification projects. The web-radio station, teen radio, was frighteningly clued in to BCI requirements; whilst the CopyWrite plagiarism tool seemed to me to be based on a deceptively simple idea, and all the more powerful for that. But, from a legal perspective, I was particularly fascinated by two projects in the photos below on what lawyers call visual identfication evidence.

I remember as a student being struck by S Lloyd Bostock and BR Clifford (eds) Evaluating Witness Evidence: Recent Psychological Research and New Perspectives (Wiley, NY, 1983) and discovering Hugo Munsterberg’s seminal “The Memory of the Witness� (nicely put in context here). Hence, in The People (Attorney General) v Casey (No 2) [1963] IR 33, Kingsmill Moore J for the Supreme Court held that “it is desirable in all cases where the verdict depends substantially on the correctness of visual identification of the accused that the attention of the jury should be drawn in general terms to the fact that in a number of instances visual identification of an accused person had been established subsequently to have been erroneous, (due) to the possibilities of mistake in the case before the jury and to the necessity for caution�. Interesting and relatively recent applications of this principle are to be found in DPP v O’Donovan [2004] IE CCA 48 (10 December 2004), and JB v DPP [2006] IESC 66 (29 November 2006).

The position is similar in the UK, at least since R v Turnbull [1977] QB 224 (see now also R v Stevens [2002] NICA 33 (05 July 2002), Roberts v The State (Trinidad and Tobago) [2003] UKPC 1 (15 January 2003) and Pop v R (Belize) [2003] UKPC 40 (22 May 2003), and the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK now has very detailed rules concerning the visual identification of suspects.

It was fascinating to be reminded of all of this by this year’s crop of young scientists, and I’m sure that the young scientist in the family will bring me to the RDS again next year!