Identification parades in South Africa — Time for a change?

Authors: Colin G Tredoux, Ryan J Fitzgerald, Aldred Allan & Alicia Nortje

ISSN: 1996-2177
Affiliations: Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University; Professor, Department of Psychology, Edith Cowan University; Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 141 Issue 1, p. 84-111


Identification parades are essential when obtaining evidence of identity from eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses are shown a line of people containing the suspect(s) and innocent fillers, and witnesses are asked to point out the perpetrator(s) of the crime, noting that the perpetrator(s) might not be present. Corporeal (‘live’) parades are required in South Africa unless there is a good reason not to use them, in which case the police may use photograph parades. We review the rules for conducting parades in South Africa and compare these to those in several other countries, many of which no longer use corporeal parades. We consider evidence from empirical studies that have tested the ‘live superiority’ hypothesis and conclude that there is no clear evidence in its favour, notwithstanding that there are benefits to augmenting static views of faces with additional cues to identity. We then consider the logistical and financial cost of conducting live parades, which we find to be considerable. We conclude that it may well be time to reconsider the use of live identification parades in South Africa but caution that this should coincide with a review of the law regulating the use of alternative methods to ensure that accused persons receive fair trials.