Witness Independence – too much of a coincidence?

[Image credit: ““Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes” –Maggie Kuhn. Cringle Park, Levenshulme, Manchester” by dullhunk is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Very often in criminal cases, several witnesses give similar and sometimes almost identical evidence. At first blush, if all the witnesses were at the same place, at the same time and witnessing the same event, surely that is to be expected?

But if we pause for a moment and consider a group of football fans recounting the same match, the same player and the same goal, it is interesting just how much they often disagree!

In a scientific paper (Gunn et al., ‘Too good to be true: when overwhelming evidence fails to convince’ Stat AP, 5 January 2016) the authors concluded, using statistical tools, that the probability of perfect agreement between witnesses is almost zero.

With that in mind, when witness statements perfectly match, we should be extremely cautious.

It is easy for a trained lawyer who is aware of this real danger to spot it.

When analysing witness statements, we look for key phrases that you would not expect to be repeated by witnesses recounting even the same event. When these are seen, it is most likely that it is due to witness collusion, whether by the witnesses themselves or another party, such as a police officer directing the taking of such statements.

We can see a good example of this in Wake v Johnson [2015] EWHC 276 (QB). In this case, the court produced a table showing the similarities in the accounts given by witnesses. This led the Judge to conclude:

‘In my judgement, the reliability of the evidence of the corroborative witnesses is highly questionable; the circumstances strongly suggest to me that there has been an unsatisfactory degree of liaison between these witnesses.’

In another case, AA v London Borough of Southwark [2014] EWHC 500 (QB), the Judge observed:

‘… Three short and anodyne statements were produced in very similar terms that gave very similar but inaccurate accounts of the eviction. They even look as if they were produced on the same computer and printer and were drafted in unison. One of these statements is dated 31 May 2013. Thus, the agreed intention of all three officers appears to have been to co-ordinate an attempted cover-up of what happened when they each gave evidence.’

Conclusion

In a criminal case, you can afford to leave nothing to chance. Our lawyers are highly trained to spot such attempts to present false evidence to the court and will always act to ensure that this is exposed for what it is – an attempt to secure a wrongful conviction.

How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact any member of our vastly experienced Criminal Defence team, for assistance with any criminal law related matter.

Mr John Stokes (John.Stokes@danielwoodman.co.uk),
Mr Anthony Pearce (Anthony.Pearce@danielwoodman.co.uk) or
Mr Daniel Woodman (Daniel.Woodman@danielwoodman.co.uk).

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