Not a good look?
Society members will be concerned to learn that the Research Board has disbanded the Task and Finish Group on “Memory and the Law”. This group was set up to update the Society’s guidance on memory, particularly recovered memory. The Society’s previous guidelines, published in 2008, have been archived and no longer represent “advice”, although they are readily available via an Internet search. I am, of course, aware that the subject is contentious but it is quite baffling that the group could not even produce a report acknowledging this.
Memory is both the proper province of psychology application and research, and frequently crucial in the legal arena. Indeed, witnesses’ memories of events, particularly alleged “false” memories, were a significant motivating factor in the Society’s original working parties and reports. Psychologists continue to be called upon as experts in Court cases where witnesses’ memories of events are disputed. The evidence they have given has sometimes proved contentious.
The Board’s decision taken, as I understand it, without consulting other interested parts of the Society, in particular the applied Divisions, would leave a psychologist in Court answering the question of what was their professional body’s view on such memories with the reply “It doesn’t have one”.
It’s not a good look.
Dr Adrian Skinner
[Originally published online on 5 February]
Professor Daryl O’Connor, Chair, Research Board, responds:
After careful consideration, at their October 2020 meeting the BPS Research Board (including representation from Divisions) made the difficult decision to bring the work of the memory-based evidence task and finish group to a close.
The Group was actually set up to develop a new document, rather than providing an update to the previous guidance. We worked closely with the group to resolve the challenges they faced. Unfortunately, the standards of evidence for the report and the need for consensus and a convergence of evidence from experimental work and clinical practice, as defined within the Terms of Reference for the group, could not be met.
A meeting of the members involved in the Memory-Based Evidence Task and Finish Group was held in January 2021. This was a constructive and helpful meeting, and the former members of the Task and Finish group agreed a way forward: rather than reconstitute the group they will first work on a series of articles about memory-based evidence for a special issue of a relevant journal. This would allow for a full and definitive review of the ‘state of the art’ of different aspects of evidence-based memory and allow the space to outline where there were controversies as well as clear consensus.
All guidance is reviewed at two years and five years post-publication. We are currently redeveloping our website and will consider adding an archiving section with a statement on legacy documents to make clear that they do not reflect the BPS’s current position. Previous guidance documents on Memory and the Law (2008; 2010) have been archived as they are five years post-publication.
A 2019 Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology briefing on improving witness testimony is available. This document involved the College of Policing, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice along with a host of other experts, including members of the Memory Based Evidence Task and Finish Group.
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