As a results of COVID-19, many of our normal face-to-face interactions have been replaced with an online or remote equivalent. Working from home has become the new norm and it is unclear whether things will every completely return to how they were less than a year ago. In every sphere of public life, the way we communicate now looks quite different.
How the legal system is making use of online communication tools
Investigative and legal work is no different. For instance, with the justice system’s heavy reliance on oral evidence and given current limits on physical attendance, trial work has only been able to continue with the aid of technology. In this way, the courts are pressing on in a similar fashion to many other workplaces around the country – with a ‘same but different’ approach.
In the Victorian Supreme Court, for example, unless an exemption is specifically granted, all trial and appeal participants are appearing remotely. Platforms such as Webex, Skype and Zoom are used for civil matters, and criminal hearings are conducted using either Webex or the existing VideoLink technology. Meanwhile, mediation and preliminary hearings can proceed using telephone or Zoom communication.
Similarly, investigative work has only been able to proceed in the current climate with use of online communication tools in place of in-person communications.
The advantages and disadvantages of remote interviewing
Such interactions certainly have their advantages and, without them, this important work would have come to a complete halt. Restrictions on travel, quarantining requirements, instances of preventative self-isolation and general COVID-safe practices have simply rendered face-to-face interactions unworkable as the default process.
However, there are a number of challenges that also come with interviewing online. As anyone who has participated in a Zoom meeting will know, it’s not quite that same as normal human interaction, sacrificing some of the immediacy and fluency of communication. There can also be greater scope for miscommunication, as well limiting our capacity to read non-verbal cues. On top of that, there can be the frustrations of technological glitches or even security concerns about the platforms.
Interviewing children remotely
Interviews with children require care in normal circumstances, when interviews are conducted online, even further care must be taken.
A publication released in June 2020 by three high profile researchers on interviewing child witnesses: Professors, B.Milne, C.Dando and K. Smith, identified special considerations that are required when interviewing children and the most vulnerable witnesses remotely.
We must not forget that many vulnerable people in society are excluded from remote interviews due to lack of access to technology or the privacy to participate in confidential conversations.
Milne, Dando and Smith, emphasise the need to ensure the right support is available for the witness because of the following reasons:
- Traumatised victims typically have a poorer memory of events and may dissociate or behave erratically during an interview;
- Children may need to be encouraged to focus on the task in hand;
- Children with ADHD, autism and other learning disabilities may struggle with the social context of the interview. These challenges can be further compounded in a remote setting because ‘invisible’ disabilities can be hard to identify, the disability may be unknown or a witness may be unable or unwilling to share a diagnosis. Either way, the interviewer is left with a challenging interaction over Zoom.
The authors warn that research suggests that those “who get upset and distressed while recounting a traumatic experience can come to associate the trauma with the place in which it was recalled (see Brewin, 2016; Nursey, & Phelps, 2016).” Providing the potential for long term impacts of conducting interviews in locations previous considered ‘safe’.
Finally, developing and maintaining rapport, which is crucial to successful investigative interviews could be severely hampered by remote interviews as research is yet to establish whether sufficient rapport can be built and maintained in a remote setting.
For remote interviews to be done effectively, there are some important points to keep in mind:
- Be prepared to hold a pre interview to assess the skill level of the witness before attempting to obtain evidence;
- Undertake a risk assessment to determine the appropriate approach;
- Prepare a thorough interview plan including communication strategies before you begin, use someone close to the witness to provide you with key information about communication abilities, behaviours in addition to ideas for helping to build rapport.
- Take more time than normal to develop a rapport with the interviewee and be prepared to restate or rephrase questions to be certain they understand what is being asked of them;
- Make sure your witness has access to appropriate technology and the privacy to speak,
- Properly brief a support person to help.
Conducting investigations is important work that needs to continue, while also managing risk due to the pandemic. The processes can be managed effectively when taking a few important aspects into consideration, particularly when children are involved.
MyKludo supplies expert investigators who are experienced in investigative interviews with witnesses including children and those experiencing trauma. MyKludo offers clients the ability to connect with specialist Child protection investigators and Safeguarding consultants via our unique online platform.
Join us next week to hear from Safeguarding expert and experience workplace investigator Simon Davies at our Webinar addressing, ‘Safeguarding and the importance of Codes of Conduct’ 6 October 2020 at 1pm AEST or catch up with our previous Webinars on Changes ot eh Children’s Guardian Act and Reportabel Conduct in NSW on our YouTube Channel.
Brewin, C. R. (2018). Memory and forgetting. Current psychiatry reports, 20(10), 87.
B. Milne, C. Dando and K. Smith, (2020). Three leading investigative interviewing experts debate the complexities of remote interviews in the current pandemic. www.the-investigator.co.uk July 2020
Nursey, J., & Phelps, A. J. (2016). Stress, Trauma, and Memory in PTSD. In Stress: Concepts, Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior (pp. 169-176). Academic Press.