Exemption from Turnbull guidelines

20 January 2021

Not reviewed after the date of publication


I understood from the case of R. v. Spittle (2009) R.T.R that Police Officers are "professionally trained to carry out observation" and therefore not bound by the requirements in R v Turnbull. Is this also the case for PCSO's?


R v Turnbull 1976 outlines guidelines and the criteria you mention in regards to identification. These guidelines are how the courts will view identification evidence that is in dispute.

The case of R v Spittle you mention does not, in our opinion, permit officers to disregard the Turnbull guidelines. These guidelines serve as considerations for officers when they are involved in identification processes. Any identification evidence that has not been considered in line with the guidelines could be rejected at court.

In the case of Spittle the police officer identified S who was driving dangerously. Turnbull was considered in the assessment of the identification evidence. Where the identifying evidence is poor the judge could withdraw the case from the jury, unless there is evidence that supports the correctness of his identification.

During his deliberations in permitting the identification evidence, the judge confirmed it was important that the police officer was alerted to the dangerous driving beforehand and he was aware of the suspect, which was different from the case of a witness of an unexpected incident. As you state the police officer was described as 'a professional police officer, trained to carry out observation'. On this basis it was found that the case was not so weak that it should be withdrawn from the jury's consideration and it was for the jury, having heard all the evidence, to make their own assessment of the reliability of the identification evidence. Further, it was found that the previous convictions established a propensity in Spittle to drive whilst disqualified and that this propensity made it more likely that Spittle had committed the offence of driving whilst disqualified.

All officers should continue to have regard to the Turnbull guidelines in all identification matters as the courts will view the guidelines when assessing the quality of the identification.

The following CPS link also provides further information regarding identification and the use of the guidelines in court.


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