Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland

Good practice guidance for police officers and social workers who are carrying out joint investigative interviews with child witnesses


1. This good practice guidance is for police officers and social workers who are carrying out joint investigative interviews ( JIIs) with children (aged under 16 on commencement of the initial interview). Its principles may also be relevant to organisations whose staff ( e.g. Procurators Fiscal precognition officers) are involved in interviewing children. The guidance may also be useful as an approach to interviewing persons who are being treated as vulnerable adult witnesses under the provisions of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 ( VWA), and people aged 16 and 17 years old who are subject to supervision requirements in terms of section 70 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

2. This guidance updates previous interviewing guidance (Scottish Executive, 2003) and incorporates guidance on visual recording of JIIs, based on unpublished draft guidance (Richards et al, 2006) and on piloting in 3 areas already using visual recording. It should also be read in conjunction with the National Child Protection Guidance which embeds the 'Getting it Right For Every Child' ( GIRFEC) approach.

3. The premise of this guidance remains that every child has a right to protection from harm, abuse and exploitation. Where a child may have suffered such treatment, and agencies involved in child protection are called to intervene, the child's welfare should be of paramount importance. Under GIRFEC, the interests of other children should also be considered. From the outset, every decision made about interviewing the child must be made on the basis that the paramount consideration is the best interests of the child. Care must be taken that children do not suffer any undue distress during investigations into allegations or reported information. Agencies should also endeavour to treat children as individuals, and where possible, involve them in making decisions. These principles are founded on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, and the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

4. This guidance aims to make the interview more child-focused and less stressful for the child. It also aims to:

  • improve the quality of investigative interviews
  • enhance the sharing of information
  • improve the quality of the interview record
  • keep to a minimum the number of times the child is interviewed, in the best interests of the child
  • set out principles of good practice for any organisations who may be involved in interviewing children as witnesses, whether as part of a criminal, civil or children's hearing related proceedings
  • set out good practice for the visual recording of JIIs.

5. The main changes are:

  • Introduction of visual recording (paragraphs 18-20)
  • Clarification of consent (paragraphs 41-44)
  • Role of 2 nd interviewer (paragraphs 45-53)
  • Pre-interview transportation (paragraph 76)
  • Clarification of ground rules - now Interview principles (paragraphs 97-99)
  • Removal of truth and lies (paragraphs 100-102)
  • Greater prominence to practice interview (paragraphs 107-108)

Other minor changes have also been made to the guidance.

6. The guidance covers all JII cases regardless of the allegation under investigation, including child sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse. It illustrates best practice for conducting JIIs, to ensure that the interview record is of a quality that can be used during any subsequent proceedings, including as evidence in court if necessary. (The guidance does not cover interviews with children who are suspects; see paragraphs 185- 188)

7. This guidance underpins and supplements the provision and content of Joint Investigative Interviewing Training ( JIIT) and complies with the revised (2009) National Curriculum on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses Training in Scotland. Work is ongoing in moving towards a training and development strategy which will set out national standards of practice and consideration of competence and accreditation issues. Some agreement has been reached and we are now progressing towards the agenda being taken forward in the future by relevant bodies (Association of Directors of Social Work ( ADSW), Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland ( ACPOS) etc.).

Investigative interviewing

8. This guidance is concerned primarily with the formal interviews carried out by investigative interviewers, mainly for evidential purposes and to assess any necessary action in relation to that or any other child. The investigative interview is a formal, planned interview with a child, carried out by staff trained and competent to conduct it, for the purposes of eliciting the child's account of events (if any) which require investigation. It is important to bear in mind that interviewers must always be objective as, at the time of interview, it will not be known what proceedings, if any, the interview may be used in i.e. criminal, civil or both.

9. The main purposes of the investigative interview are to:

  • learn the child's account of the circumstances that prompted the enquiry
  • gather information to permit decision making on whether the child in question, or any other child, is in need of protection
  • gather sufficient evidence to suggest whether a crime may have been committed against the child or anyone else
  • gather evidence which may lead to a ground of referral to a children's hearing being established.

10. Although children may first approach and communicate with those people who are around them daily ( e.g. teachers, parents), these discussions are not to be confused with the JII. Police officers who are not trained in joint investigative interviewing may also be the first to talk to a child, and their interaction with the child should also be regarded as quite different from the JII.

11. Similarly, a child may reveal incidents, such as sexual or physical abuse unexpectedly during counselling or assessment sessions held to address other issues ( e.g. behavioural problems the child has been displaying at school). Discussions within these settings should not be confused with investigative interviews. In such circumstances, the child should be allowed to provide any voluntary account, however, should not be interviewed or questioned in detail by the professional as this may undermine the reliability or admissibility of any information subsequently provided at interview.

12. Details of any revelations made to a police officer should be noted in the officer's personal notebook, as soon as practicably thereafter any corroborating officer or social worker should be required to countersign it. In the event that the revelation is not made in the presence of a police officer, the social worker or other professional should record details of what was said by the child, those persons present and the time, date and location in written format as soon as reasonably practicable and the police notified as soon as possible thereafter to enable child protection procedures to be considered and implemented if necessary.

13. Nor should JIIs be confused with interviews conducted for therapeutic purposes. Therapy-focused interviews must be undertaken with care to ensure as far as possible that they do not compromise the investigative function; therefore a therapy-focused approach ( e.g. clinical approach to interviewing) should not be adopted during an investigative interview. The provision of therapeutic support can, however, be an important part of the response to child physical or sexual abuse. Guidance on how to provide therapeutic support without potentially contaminating evidence is given in the Code of Practice to facilitate the provision of therapeutic support to child witnesses in court proceedings (Scottish Executive, 2005a).

14. Nevertheless, the manner in which an investigative interview is conducted is likely to have an impact on the child and their capacity to begin to overcome any adverse events or experiences. Interviewers should always be aware of the potential effects of their techniques and use this guidance as appropriate to minimise adverse affects on the child.

The decision to carry out a joint investigative interview

15. The National Child Protection Guidance makes clear that any notification of concern must result in the consideration of relevant information and indicate a need to make decisions on a number of issues. One of these is whether a joint investigative interview is required and, if so, the arrangements that need to be put in place.

16. On receipt of information indicating that a child has suffered or may be at risk of abuse or neglect, information should be gathered from all relevant agencies who know the child and/or the child's parents or carers, including any relevant health or education information and information from any adult services involved. Where it is decided by police and social work that a child protection response is required health colleagues must be involved in any decisions about the health needs of the child. Managers with designated responsibility will be responsible for planning, co-ordinating and liaising on any joint investigation and interview. There may be occasions an immediate risk is identified and there will be a need to make dynamic and quick time decisions based on the information available. Interviewers should be aware of and follow the National Child Protection Guidance

Overview of the joint investigative interview process

17. A joint investigative interview process will include:-

  • Pre-interview briefing meeting to plan the approach to the investigation, and to ensure that those who undertake the interview are fully aware of all the issues;
  • The investigative interview, including a practice interview (paragraphs 107- 108), involving police and social work staff;
  • A de-briefing meeting to allow those involved to fully explore and access the information elicited during the interview.

Recording the interview

18. Best practice is that when it has been decided that a JII is appropriate, the vast majority of such interviews carried out will be visually recorded. Appendix C sets out the benefits of visual recording. Where equipment is available, all JIIs must be visually recorded unless there are specific reasons why this may be inappropriate e.g. the alleged offence involved video-recording or photography of the victim. If interviews have to take place on an emergency basis and recording equipment is not available or able to be used, then the interview should be recorded in a hand written format. The questions and answers noted verbatim. In all cases, the date, start and end times must be noted in the interview record(s). The practice interview (following on from rapport building) should also be recorded (see paragraphs 107- 108); paragraphs 80 and 88 may also have implications for what is recorded.

19. The use of visual recordings needs to be balanced by firm reassurances to children and parents or carers that all recordings will be safely and appropriately used, stored and disposed of in accordance with police and local authority policies. Guidance on copying visual recordings is set out in paragraphs 205- 212, the accommodation and technical standards expected for operating JII equipment are at Appendix F while Appendix G outlines the rules for handling and storage of data with a restricted classification.

20. Where a JII is not visually recorded, the reason for not visually recording the interview must be documented in case files and verified by an agency supervisor.

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