I am starting to come across cases in which rather than a police notebook or statement, the Court now has the benefit of seeing the video-footage recorded by the police vest-camera of an incident. The officers have a camera fitted to their vest, and everything that they do in the course of the working day is recorded and available for later scrutiny.
No doubt this is very helpful in cases with Brazilian electricians, or where there is doubt about whether or not someone had a gun, or heaven forbid whether a Government Minister included a class-based insult when swearing at police officers.
The benefit for court proceedings is plain – rather than relying on a recollection of an event that may or may not be accurately remembered or may be coloured by other issues, what actually happened is there for the Court to see. It might back up what the prosecution is saying, it may back up what the defence is saying. I was tempted to say “The camera never lies”, but we’ve seen too many doctored photographs to believe that any more.
There are potentially other benefits, as well as the direct forensic one – chiefly about trust and relationship between the public and the police. There’s no value in the police stretching the truth, or behaving in an improper way towards a suspect if the camera footage is going to be disclosed and seen later.
So, is there merit in trialling these vest cameras (the most high-tech ones being about the size of a credit card or identity card) for social workers?
There’s not a lot of transparency online about the costs of these cameras, since they are being produced by commercial bodies who don’t want to stick their pricing up on line and give their competitors an edge, so that would be the major hurdle. But you can tell from the price of camcorders and how much cheaper and smaller they have gotten over the last five years that it wouldn’t necessarily be prohibitive.
The camera would be worn for every meeting with the family, every assessment session, every visit. The family would be entitled to request to see any of these, and to make use of any of them in Court. Equally, the Judge could see any footage of an incident where there is a dispute. Rather than having to choose between two competing stories, the Court can see for themselves what actually happened. It cuts both ways – if a social worker is exagerrating about the home conditions or being provocative, difficult or patronising, that will get seen – on the other hand, the Court could see exactly what was said and exactly how the house looked on the day in question. Much better chance of getting to the truth.
And just as with the police, the knowledge that everything is being filmed might reduce the occasions on which professionals are heavy-handed or stretch the truth. Which in turn might improve the relationship between professionals and families – everyone knows that the facts can’t get twisted or have words put in their mouth, because the truth is there to be watched and inspected.
Is it something that is worth a try? Is it the sort of thing that would make more of a difference to how families are treated than micro-management of forms and documents?
The counter arguments might be that being filmed might inhibit people or make them self-conscious giving a more stilted performance in assessments, that the footage might be misused or misfiled or get lost (accidentally or deliberately), that the footage might find its way online, that children might be shown it or come across it. Those are things which would need careful thought.