Identification Evidence and Procedures

Background to identification evidence 

  • In criminal procedures for a person to be found guilty of an offence all elements of the offence need to be proven by the Prosecution and further it must be proven for the jury to be sure that it was the Defendant who committed the offence. Therefore, in a number of cases the biggest issues turn to be based on identification and possible mistakes as to who did the act alleged or complained of.

  • The Government have for numbers of years recognised the problems related to witnesses being genuinely mistaken in their identification of the Defendant. Further, the issue is exacerbated due to the fact that a mistaken witness could be a convincing one when put before a jury.

  • In response to those troubles, there are prescribed ways in which the link between the accused and the crime can be established. In broad terms there are two situations- where the accused is identified by a person giving live evidence at court or where the accused is being identified before the trial begins.

Identification at court

  • In court eyewitness identifications are also known as dock identifications. Those should and are generally rarely allowed. The reasoning behind such rule is that there is no great difficulty to pick out the person standing rather obviously in the dock. Therefore, such identification lacks strength.

  • Further allowing a dock identification where there has been no other previous identification by that person would go against the principles for conducting out of court identification as detailed below. However, where the accused has refused to attend a parade, dock identification may be permissible.

  • Exceptions to that general rule are road traffic offences where it has to be proven who the driver of the vehicle was at the time of the offence. Generally, there is no dispute as to who was the driver but a failure to call any evidence to address that issue would likely result in an acquittal. 

Identification before the beginning of the trial

Currently there are four different identification procedures for before the trial begins:

  1. Video identification

  2. Identification parade

  3. Group identification

  4. Confrontation identification 

  • Those appear in the order of preference for use by the police. And the essence is that they are all conducted in less-prejudicial circumstances than a dock identification.

  • Identification procedures and positive identification in the course of such are on their face out of court statements. However, they are admissible as prior consistent statements.  

  • The procedures and their conduct are governed by the Codes of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984). In particular of importance are Code D and the annexes under it addressing the individual procedures. 

Video identification

  • In a video identification, the witness is shown a set of images of the suspect and at least eight other people who need to resemble the suspect in general appearance and position in life. If there are two suspects of roughly similar appearances they may be shown together with at least twelve other people.

  • If the suspect has an unusual physical feature like a scar or tattoo etc, steps may be taken to conceal the location of the feature on the images of the suspect or replicate that feature on all other images.

  • The images shown may be moving or still but shall as far as possible have the same sequence of movements for all people. 

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For more information on:

  • Identification parade
  • Group identification 
  • Confrontation identification 
  • Identification and admissibility