Identification Procedures

PACE details the methods by which police can identify potential suspects and defines the processes for retaining records in relation to criminal investigations. The aim of this code is to ensure that procedures utilised from collecting evidence pertaining to an individual’s identity are fair and does not negatively impinge on their basic human rights. This Code is extremely complex and covers a vast array of different methods of identification and the human rights associated with the collection and storage of personal data.

For the purposes of this paper we will limit our discussion here to that of eyewitness identification. One of the biggest sources of miscarriages of justice is mistaken eyewitness identification and there is a great deal of evidence available that suggests the probability of an error in an eyewitness report is extremely high. This fact alone entails that identifying perpetrators of crime is an extremely challenging area for police and needs to be implemented in an extremely careful manner.

Unfortunately however, there is evidence to suggest that the regulations of PACE are not always adhered to and there are numerous examples of occasions where failure to implement the requirements of Code D has led to convictions being quashed. One such example is the case of R vs. Forbes 2001 where the police failed to fulfil the requirement of organising an identity parade.

The court ruled that failing to do this denied the defendant the safeguard a parade is designed to provide and thus the identification of the suspect was unfair . A further case is that of R vs. Conway (1990) where, again, the accused was refused the right to an identity parade, despite the fact that he had explicitly requested one. The court of appeal ruled that the case had been negatively impacted by lack of administration of a parade and that the remaining identification of the defendant was not satisfactory.

Hutchinson J commented on this: The failure to accede to the defendant’s request for an identification parade effectively deprived him of the opportunity of properly putting to the test the crucial issue of whether or not the witnesses knew him. Had they failed at such a parade to identify him, the case would inevitably have collapsed. In addition to failing completely to authorise suitable identification procedures there is also evidence of police failing to carry them out properly.

This was commented on in the case of R v Forbes (2001) where the court openly recognized that during an identification process the police interest will lie firmly based upon their own objectives, “primary concern will (perfectly properly) to be to promote the investigation and prosecution of crime rather than to protect the interests of the suspects”. This again raises the issue of police discretion and human fallibility. Whilst the laws of PACE are aimed at encouraging fair investigational procedures their actual implementation are dependent upon police judgement, something that is not always entirely reliable and unbiased.