Definition of Fit for Interview

Until recently, there has been no clear definition of what precisely is meant by the term fit to be interviewed, and this has led to confusion among those doctors called on to perform these assessments (62). To address this deficiency, Norfolk (63) proposed a definition that was used as the starting point for discussion by a subgroup set up by the Home Office Working Party on Police Surgeons in the United Kingdom. That working party made an interim recommendation (64) that has now been modified and included in the 2003 revision of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Codes of Practice (1), thus providing the first Parliamentary approved definition of the term fitness for interview. The Codes of Practice state that:

A detainee may be at risk in an interview if it is considered that:

(a) Conducting the interview could significantly harm the detainee's physical or mental state

(b) Anything the detainee says in the interview about their involvement or suspected involvement in the offense about which they are being interviewed might be considered unreliable in subsequent court proceedings because of their physical or mental state.

Thus, a suspect with known ischemic heart disease who is experiencing chest pain satisfies the criteria of (a) above and clearly needs assessment and appropriate treatment before it is safe to conduct an interrogation.

The concept of unreliability may be harder to evaluate and will require consideration of the various vulnerability factors associated with false confessions. In making an assessment, the Codes of Practice require the doctor to consider the following:

1. How the detainee's physical or mental state might affect their ability to understand the nature and purpose of the interview, to comprehend what is being asked, and to appreciate the significance of any answers given and make rational decisions about whether they want to say anything.

2. The extent to which the detainee's replies may be affected by their physical or mental condition rather than representing a rational and accurate explanation of their involvement in the offense.

3. How the nature of the interview, which could include particularly probing questions, might affect the detainee.

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