Increased awareness and changes in the practice of interviewing eyewitness testimonies in the Italian legal system
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Hull
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeLegal
Research Subject Area(s)
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
Two books and review/research articles in Italian have disseminated the
findings from the underpinning research on creating false autobiographical
memories and the dangers of inadequate interviewing techniques. This work
has critically increased awareness in the Italian legal system amongst
both barristers and judges, to the point of shaping the practice of
interviewing witnesses in that country. It has also informed all verdicts
on child sexual abuse by the Supreme Court of Cassation.
The research conducted at Hull and the books and articles in Italian
published since 2006 examined the effect of suggestion on memory about
past events (e.g. Scoboria et al 2008; Scoboria et al, 2008; Scoboria et
al, 2012; Mazzoni et al, 2010), both in adults and children, and
demonstrated that false memories can be easily created, while examining
also the boundaries of the malleability of human memory (e.g. the role of
different suggestive techniques, Scoboria et al, 2008). Specifically, the
research undertaken at the University of Hull has substantially developed
initial work in showing that hypnosis might impair memory less than
misleading questions (Scoboria et al, 2008). It has also shown that false
memories are very common to the point that they can occur spontaneously in
childhood (Mazzoni et al, 2010). Additional studies have demonstrated that
suggestions are more effective in changing memories if tailored to the
individual (Scoboria et al 2012); that suggestions not only create false
memories, they also change behavioural patterns and decisions (Scoboria et
al, 2008); that false memories guide the individual's behaviour (Scoboria
et al, 2012); that it is important to distinguish between two main
components to the remembering process, believing that an event occurred
and reliving the event (Mazzoni et al, 2010), a distinction that helps
understand behaviour in retractors. In addition, the research has shown
that also beliefs can be modified in a major way by suggestion, and that
beliefs (either true or false) are probably even more important than
memories in determining subsequent behaviour and decisions. The research
has also examined from a more purely theoretical and empirical point of
view the decision of a witness to withhold a response (Scoboria et al,
2008. Hanczakowski et al, 2013). This work has been disseminated in
several ways, including articles in Italian scientific psychological
journals, law journals, as well as in pop science magazines, magazines for
specific professions (e.g. lawyers, police, teachers), and in three books,
of which the most recent one is listed.
References to the research
Experimental work (in English):
Hanczakowski, M., Pazek, T., Zawadzka, K., Mazzoni, G. (2013). Cue
familiarity and `don't know' responding in episodic memory tasks. Journal
of Memory and Language, 69 (3), 368-383.
Scoboria, A. Mazzoni, G., Jarry, J. Bernstein, D. (2012). Personalized
and not general suggestion produces false autobiographical memories and
suggestion-consistent behavior. Acta Psychologica, 139(1): 225-232
Mazzoni, G., Scoboria, A., Harvey, L. (2010). Non-Believed Memories.
Psychological Science, 21(9) 1334-1340.
Scoboria, A., Mazzoni, G., Kirsch, I. (2008). "Don't know" responding to
answerable and unanswerable questions during misleading and hypnotic
interviews. Journal of Experimental Pschology: Applied, 14(3), 255-265.
Scoboria, G. Mazzoni, J. Jarres (2008). Suggesting childhood food illness
results in reduced eating behavior. Acta Psychologica. 128(2), 304-309.
Mazzoni,G., Rotriquenz, E. (2012). La testimonianza nei casi di abuso
sessuale su minori. Milano: Giuffre'.
Details of the impact
The work carried out at the University of Hull has been important for the
discovery of aspects of false memories that are crucial for court cases.
This knowledge has been disseminated via three books in Italian, the most
important being Mazzoni & Rotriquenz, 2012, a number of articles in
Italian written by Prof Mazzoni, and a large number of invited lectures
for Italian legal professionals, including the police, barristers and
judges (most importantly Supreme Justices of the Court). These
professionals have become increasingly aware of the potential dangers for
the witness' memory of poor interviewing techniques, and the risk inherent
in some of the current legal procedures. The work by Prof. Mazzoni has
also started a debate on the adequacy of some existing legal practices in
court cases. These practices (such as the Incidente probatorio, i.e. the
interview that is used as valid evidence in court), are now more closely
scrutinized. The impact of this work is evident in the justification of
verdicts of court cases for which Prof. Mazzoni was invited to be a
consultant. Many of these are court cases on sexual abuse in children, the
major one being the so-called Rignano Flaminio case, that has been the
object of intense interest by the national media, and has triggered a
major debate (see letter by Avv Roberto Borgogno). The impact of the work
conducted at the university of Hull is also evident in the justifications
of verdicts of the Supreme Court (see letter by Supreme Judge Claudia
Squassoni, President of the Third Section of the Supreme Court).
Prof. Mazzoni's research results have also been a main drive in modifying
the interviewing practice of vulnerable witnesses (children). These
changes are evident in the new version of the Carta di Noto, in the
Protocollo di Venezia and in the first Italian Interviewing Guidelines.
These are all national documents which are described more fully below, for
which Prof. Mazzoni has been invited to be the main or one of the main
consultants. Increased awareness due to the results of the research
carried out at the University of Hull has set new standards for what is
typically required by the court for considering a testimony reliable. The
malleability of memory and the related risks due to inadequate
interviewing techniques is a topic now mentioned in every court case
involving minors and the work carried out by Prof. Mazzoni has represented
a major drive in it. Although in Italy the law forbids mentioning
individual names and papers in verdicts and in the subsequent extended
justification (see letter by Supreme Justice Dr. Claudia Squassoni), Prof.
Mazzoni's work on false memories and eyewitness memory has been referred
to in most verdicts of First Degree and Appeal courts (for two example see
the letter by Avv.Roberto Borgogno, the defence lawyer in the Rignano
Flaminio case, and by Avv Prof. Guglielmo Gulotta, Defence lawyer in a
major case, the Brescia case), as well as all verdicts of the Supreme
Court of Cassation. This latter is confirmed in a statement by Dr. Claudia
Squassone, President of the Third Section of the Italian Supreme Court.
The impact of the work by Prof, Mazzoni is also clarified by Avv. Renato
Borzone, then secretary of the Italian Barristers' Guild. Prof. Mazzoni
has been personally invited to consult for 26 court cases in Italy and one
in the UK. Following the indications of the work by Prof. Mazzoni, the
request by defence lawyers for the court to choose expert witnesses of
high academic/scientific credentials, or else to justify the choice of
individuals of a lesser prestige, has been presented in 5 of the cases in
which Prof. Mazzoni has been involved as a consultant, and most likely in
at least all the cases in which the same judges and defence lawyers have
been involved afterwards.
More recently (2011-2012) prof Mazzoni has been asked to train the head
of the child neuropsychiatry unit of the Istituto Don Gnocchi (Milano),
and her team of neuropsychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, in
order to create a new centre for child sexual abuse cases. Because of this
training, three of them have subsequently been invited in 2012 to become
instructors for a specialized courses for judges held by the National
School for Magistrates (Scuola Superiore di Magistratura), and the class
has been based on the research and the work developed at the University of
Hull. In May 2013 Prof. Mazzoni has been invited to give a main lecture to
judges by the Scuola Superiore di Magistratura on memory in eyewitness
testimony following the publication of her book on eyewitness testimony
As already mentioned, the work developed in Hull has shaped in part the
content of the current version of the Carta di Noto, and of two other
recent documents, the Protocollo di Venezia and the Linee Guida Nazionali
(Italian Interviewing Guidelines). Prof. Mazzoni has been invited to take
part in the drafting and overseeing of these documents, which currently
are the three major documents that regulate child interviewing in forensic
cases in Italy. The Carta di Noto, initially drafted in 2002, is the main
document in Italy in which the principles of conduct are delineated for
criminal court cases involving children. The current version, drafted and
published in 2011, is inspired by the work developed at the University of
Hull. Prof. Mazzoni was invited to be a member of the committee that
drafted the revision of this document, which has become the fundamental
point of reference for criminal court cases involving minors and
vulnerable individuals, and an essential part of the legal practice in
Italy. The testimonials by Supreme Justice Claudia Squassone and by the
President of the Italian Society for Psychology and Law Avv. De Cataldo
report on the importance of the work developed at the University of Hull
for the draft of the revision of this document, and its contribution to
the final document. The pivotal role of Prof. Mazzoni in drafting the
final version of the document is also mentioned.
The Protocollo di Venezia, drafted in 2007, delineates the issues
involved in criminal cases of collective abuse on children, and provides
interviewing guidelines. Research undertaken at the University of Hull was
one of the primary scientific underpinnings of this document, which is now
used in most court cases involving collective abuse. The document was
drafted by a committee, and Prof. Mazzoni was invited to present her work
as the keynote speaker of the meeting, and requested to lead the
subcommittee that drafted the specific interviewing guidelines included in
the document. The program of the meeting is evidence for this.
The third document, the Italian Interviewing Guidelines (Consensus among
Italian Scientific Societies), was drafted in 2009 and the final version
published in 2010. As the leading author of the research developed at the
University of Hull, Prof. Mazzoni has been invited to be one of the four
experts for the Italian Interviewing Guidelines, as evidenced in the
document itself and in the testimonial drafted by Avv. Luisella De
Cataldo, president of the Italian Psychology and Law Society.
The research has a beneficial impact on several groups of individuals in
the Italian society, including most Italian legal professionals (e.g.
police and special forces (e.g. Carabinieri), lawyers, expert witnesses,
judges) involved in criminal cases. The document drafted by the National
Barristers' Guild, as well as the new guidelines for witness interviewing
represent clear evidence of that.
The work has also had major impact on social workers, teachers, parents.
Several articles appeared in popular magazines and newspapers, as well as
pop-science magazines and one major pop-science TV program. The research
carried out at the University of Hull was also presented in 2009 by Prof.
Mazzoni in an invited keynote address to more than 2000 elementary school
Other beneficiaries are individuals who have been falsely accused of
abusing children (Prof. Mazzoni's work has been consistently mentioned by
interested groups, such as the centre Falsi Abusi, that gathers those who
have been unjustly accused and convicted).
The guidelines that have been inspired by the work at the University of
Hull also protect the victims. The victims in these cases are children
who, if incorrect interviewing techniques are used, can be induced to
create traumatic personal histories that are not true. Children in false
abuse cases that involve parents are typically taken away from the family.
Children in false abuse cases that involve teachers are moved away from
important adult figures. In all these cases children can show
psychological problems that can range from mild forms of psychological
distress to severe forms of psychosis, depending on the extent to which
their reality has been progressively distorted during the court case.
Children who go through correct interviewing become additional
beneficiaries of the impact of this work.
Sources to corroborate the impact
1 Justice of the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation
1 ex Secretary of the Italian Barristers Guild
1 President of the Italian Psychology and Law Society
1 criminal lawyer and Director of the Gulotta Foundation in Forensic
1 defence lawyer
Document of the Italian Barristers' Guild delineating a new policy for
examining child witnesses Carta di Noto
Protocollo di Venezia
Italian Interviewing Guidelines (Consensus)
Invitations to Prof.Mazzoni (only a limited number are now available)
3) Newspaper, magazines, websites (a partial list).