A unique app, iWitnessed, is launched today by leading Australian cognitive scientists, lawyers and police to assist victims and witnesses record information in a way that can help with convictions and prevent miscarriages of justice.
iWitnessed was developed by experts in forensic psychology at The University of Sydney (Dr Helen Paterson, Dr Celine van Golde) and UNSW Sydney (Professor Richard Kemp).
Former Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery sought to ensure that the best chance would be achieved for the evidence gathered using iWitnessed to be admissible in court, and consultation with the NSW Police Force ensured the smartphone app was a practical tool that would assist police with their investigations.
The app incorporates guided questioning and enables users to record information as text, voice, images and map locations – all information is time and location/GPS stamped. iWitnessed users can send their account to police, or any other secure email address, with reports easily convertible to pdf.
Senior Lecturer Dr Helen Paterson, from the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology, said iWitnessed is a best-practice immediate recall tool designed to preserve witness accounts for any type of event, including one-off events (such as car accidents) and repeated or ongoing events (such as bullying or harassment).
“This project places Australia at the forefront of international initiatives to improve the collection of eyewitness evidence and it will help in the investigation and prosecution of incidents,” Dr Paterson said.
Nicholas Cowdery QC, who is an Adjunct Professor at the Sydney Institute of Criminology, said evidence on iWitnessed could be relied on in the same manner as contemporaneous notes or recordings to refresh the memory of a witness to an event as stipulated in the Evidence Act 1995 NSW (sections 32 and 34).
“Contemporaneous notes, even if scribbled on the back of a napkin, can strengthen the reliability and strength of the evidence being given in court proceedings,” he said.
UNSW Professor Richard Kemp said iWitnessed fills a critical gap in the legal system, empowering witnesses and victims by ensuring the quality of their evidence.
“We believe iWitnessed should make a useful contribution to the legal system in Australia and will help witnesses provide accurate, high-quality evidence to assist police investigations and court processes,” he said.
Dr Paterson said the app was not to be confused with the start-up iWitness, which encouraged users to livestream recordings for a fee, and highlighted the importance of seeking help in an emergency.
“We encourage people to use iWitnessed as much as possible to make recordings and report their observations of tragic events; in cases of an emergency however, people should immediately phone 000,” she concluded.
iWitnessed was designed to help witnesses and victims provide a detailed account of any event, in a way that both records the details of the event and protects their memory against forgetting and contamination. It uses guided questioning, which has been designed by memory experts to elicit an accurate and complete account, immediately after an incident.
iWitnessed is based on research in Australia and the UK that shows memory decays rapidly after an event, but that it can be preserved if a complete account is given within 24 hours of the incident.
The information is stored on the device and users can use a PIN code to protect their data. The user can choose to send their report as a pdf to any secure email address.
In addition to the memory preservation benefits of iWitnessed, it also provides direct links to support services and information about the psychological effects of trauma.
iWitnessed was developed and made available free of charge thanks to a very generous anonymous donation provided through the University of Sydney Development Office.