Change in quality of evidence in witnesses with a learning disability with the use of communication aids

Research Institution / Organisation

Cardiff University

Principal Researcher

Tina Pereira

Level of Research


Project Start Date

September 2015

Research Context

‚ÄčTypically, talk in any interaction is organised as a set of established social rules that the speaker and the recipient engage in implicitly. Generally conversation flows back and forth between the speaker and the recipient. However there are numerous occasions within this talk that are marked by miscommunications and in order for messages to be transmitted accurately in interview and for the interviewing officer to elicit useable evidence, repair of these conversation breakdowns needs to be done effectively.

Generally repair is carried out using spoken words, phrases and sentences as this is how typically-speaking communicators engage in talk. For those with a learning disability (LD) who find communication difficult, repairing problems in communication using spoken language alone may be problematic. Recognising this difficulty, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (1999) makes provision for a range of special measures in relation to vulnerable witnesses some of which are:

  • Using the ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interview as evidence in chief
  • Use of a Registered Intermediary to improve the quality of evidence
  • Use of communication aids.

Communications aids are a type of aided Alternative and Augmentative Communication and are used to supplement, enhance or replace spoken or written language in individuals with speech, language and communication disorders. Although the ABE guidance (2011) and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (1999) make provision for the use of communication aids, there is very little research evaluating their use in actual interview situations, with witnesses with an LD. This study aims to fill that gap.

The research questions are:

  1. To what extent does the use of communication aids increase the number of completely successful repairs after a conversation breakdown in a police interview of a witness with a Learning Disability (LD)?
  2. To what extent does the use of communication aids elicit more varied linguistic categories in a police interview with a witness with a LD?

Research Methodology

‚ÄčThis study critically evaluates the use of communication aids in a small number of actual anonymised ABE investigative interviews (Achieving Best Evidence) with adult witnesses with a Learning Disability.

We know that conversation breakdowns in any communication situation are typically repaired by one or more of the participants. This study analyses the repairs that are made in interview after a miscommunication when communication aids are used to repair that miscommunication.

It initially quantitatively assesses the frequency of repairs and whether they are successful or not. Then using a Conversation Analysis framework, the change in quality of evidence is further analysed based on specific identified themes. This research will add to the existing literature in providing evidence in relation to communication aid use with this population in interview. The set of ABE interviews (cold cases) will be sourced from a local Police Force, with whom a Data Sharing Agreement has been signed. The study has received Ethics approval from Cardiff University.

Interim reports and publications

‚ÄčNot available

Date due for completion

March 2021
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