Identification procedures used by the police following an arrest

Identification Procedures

Identification procedures are used to enable the police to obtain additional evidence against a suspect. The victim or any witnesses will be asked to visually identify the suspect as the perpetrator of the crime in question. Code D of the Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers is used by the police when deciding on the most appropriate identification procedure. The procedures are designed to test the witness’ ability to identify the person they saw on a previous occasion, as well as provide safeguards against mistaken identification.

Video Identification

This identification procedure involves showing a witness moving images of a suspect, together with images of others who resemble the suspect.

The video must include the suspect as well as 8 other people who, so far as possible, resemble the suspect in age, height, general appearance and position in life; which includes showing the suspect and the other people in the same positions or carrying out the same sequence of movements.

The Suspect

The suspect or his/her solicitor is entitled to see the video before it is shown to the witness and if there are any reasonable objections, the police must take practicable steps to remove the grounds of objection, for example by replacing one of the other people shown in the video. If the suspect has any unusual features such as a birth mark or a tattoo, the police may either cover up the mark in the video or replicate the feature on all other people in the video.

A suspect will not be present when the victim or any witnesses are shown the video; however he/she must attend the police station at an earlier to date to record the video. The suspect’s solicitor must be given reasonable notice of this with regard to time and place.

If a suspect refuses to take part in a video identification, the police may proceed with a covert video identification of the suspect without his consent.


Before viewing the video identification, a witness must not communicate with any other witnesses about the case; he/she must not be able to see any of the images which are to be shown, nor must they be able to see or be reminded of any photograph or description of the suspect. A witness must not be put in a position where he/she is able to overhear any other witness who has already seen the video.

Only one witness may view the video at a time. The video may be paused or replayed any number of times.

Identification Parade or Police Line Up

A police identity parade occurs when a suspect is lined up with at least 8 other people that resemble him/her and the victim and/or any witnesses may then identify the suspect.

If a suspect has any unusual features that the other people in the line up do not have, the police can take steps to hide the features, such as by applying plasters to the particular marks or covering a distinctive hairstyle or colour with a hat.

The Suspect

The suspect may choose his position in the line up, but he may not alter the order of any other person in the line up.

The police cannot compel a suspect to take part in an identification parade.


Once again, the police must take steps to ensure that witnesses are not able to communicate with one another before the procedure takes place, nor are they to be reminded of any physical descriptions of the suspect.

Witnesses must be told that the person they saw on an earlier occasion may or may not be present in the line up and if they are unable to make an identification they should say so. Witnesses should also be encouraged not to make any decision until they have looked at each person in the line up at least twice.

A witness may ask any person in the line up to speak, move or adopt a particular posture, however witnesses are advised to try and identify a suspect before initiating such requests.

Group Identification

This occurs when the suspect is to be identified in an informal group of people. Group identification can take place either with the consent and cooperation of the suspect or the police may conduct it covertly without his/her consent.

The place of the identification should be a place where other people are passing by or waiting around informally and the suspect is able to join them and be seen by the witness.

The appearance of the surrounding people should be broadly similar to the suspect; no other requirements are needed.

Confrontation by a Witness

This type of identification is extremely rare as it involves bringing a witness face to face with a suspect at the police station, usually in the presence of the suspect’s solicitor.

Which type of identification procedure should be used?

Paragraph 3.14 of Code D of the Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers sets out that; a suspect should initially be offered a video identification, unless it is not practicable to do so. If an identification parade is both practicable and more suitable it should be used instead of video identification, or if the officer in charge of the investigation considers that a group identification is more suitable than a video identification or an identification parade and it is practicable to arrange a group identification then a group identification should be used.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.