Guidelines on Memory and the Law

As I mentioned last month, the British Psychological Society (BPS) recently commissioned a report into the implications of memory research for the legal profession.

The report, written by the Memory and Law Working Party, a research board established by the BPS and chaired by cognitive psychologist Martin Conway of the University of Leeds, has now been published.

The BPS has just issued a set of recommendations based on the report. These guidelines, which are available as a PDF, are intended to inform those who work in criminal and civil law – for example, the police as they try to extract detailed information by interviews, or defence barristers as they assess a claimant’s reliability.

Below are the key points of the BPS guidelines:

i. Memories are records of people’s experiences of events and are not a record of
the events themselves.

ii. Memory is not only of experienced events but it is also of the knowledge of a person’s life.

iii. Remembering is a constructive process.

iv. Memories for experienced events are always incomplete.

v. Memories typically contain only a few highly specific details.

vi. Recall of a single or several highly specific details does not guarantee that a memory is accurate or even that it actually occurred.

vii. The content of memories arises from an individual’s comprehension of an
experience, both conscious and non-conscious.

viii. People can remember events that they have not in reality experienced.

ix. Memories for traumatic experiences, childhood events, interview and
identification practices, memory in younger children and older adults and other
vulnerable groups all have special features.

x. A memory expert is a person who is recognised by the memory research community to be a memory researcher.



2 thoughts on “Guidelines on Memory and the Law

  1. very interesting,
    too bad there’s nothing about the reliability of witnesses’ ‘memory’ when it’s been tortured out of them.

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