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International Expert Programme in Investigative and Legal Psychology

The legal and psychological dimensions of criminal justice

Turin -

Over the past three weeks some high level international experts have been delivering exclusive lectures to the group of selected students currently attending the International Expert Programme in Investigative and Legal Psychology. This newly designed post-graduate programme worth 60 ECTS credits has been organized by UNICRI in collaboration with Åbo Akademi University (Finland), and with the support of the Salesian University Institute of Turin (Italy). As explained by the Scientific Coordinator, Prof. Pekka Santtila, the overarching aim of the course is to promote knowledge on the interactive dynamics linking the legal and psychological dimensions of criminal justice. The academic curriculum is designed to equip young professionals and post-graduate students with cross-cutting proficiency in the field of forensic psychology.

Dr. Jessica Woodhams, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the University of Birmingham and member of the course’s Scientific Committee, has introduced the students to the fascinating world of Behavioural Crime Linkage. In virtue of her extensive academic expertise, her awarded experience as a crime analyst and long history of collaborating directly with practitioners, she guided students to learn about the theoretical bases as well as the practical procedural steps of this analytical process. As Dr. Woodhams explained “Crime linkage, is becoming increasingly prominent in forensic investigation and has the potential to assist police forces to use their often limited resources in a more efficient way, by combining investigative efforts and pooling relevant evidence from different crime scenes. Furthermore, evidence that an offender is likely to have committed a group, or series, of crimes might also be presented as similar fact evidence in court.”

The psychological pitfalls in judicial decision making and the necessity of questioning evidence presented in criminal proceedings have been the core topics of the lectures delivered by Prof. Peter Van Koppen, another esteemed member of the Programme’s Scientific Committee. The vast experience and scientific wittiness of the former president of the European Association for Psychology and Law greatly benefited the learning experience of the students. By opening his lectures with a 1992 video recording of an inspiring interview with Karl Popper on the main concepts of the philosophy of science, Prof. Van Koppen talked extensively about forensic and judicial evidence and explained how, as Sir James Fitzjames Stephen notes, “evidence is only one case of the general problem of science, –– namely, inferring the unknown from the known”. Hence, the importance of adopting a confuting attitude towards one’s own theories on forensic and judicial evidence and always trying to exclude the expectancy effect. Students were thus stimulated to reflect on the words of another prestigious jurist, Sir William Blackstone, who stated that: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffers”.

Most recently, the course's participants have been introduced to the complex yet mesmerizing world of neuroscience. Prof. Anthony Beech, Head of the Centre for Forensic and Criminological Psychology at the University of Birmingham and author of a remarkable amount of academic publications in this field, stressed on the increased application that neuroscience is gaining in criminal justice. He opened his speech with a clear-cut consideration that appears to be supported by many other authoritative sources: “The rise of so-called ‘neurolaw’ cases is becoming more pressing in that forensic practitioners are grappling with understanding the impact that neuroscience is having upon the forensic field, both in terms of the court system and in producing effective treatments to reduce re-offending”. Prof. Beech captivated the attention of the participants and accurately explained some of the most recent findings on the neurobiological bases of offending and also exposed his theory on sexual offending. Drawing from these observations, Dr. Dawn Fisher, a practicing forensic clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience who is currently working with St Andrew’s Healthcare and the University of Birmingham, described some of the most effective treatments for sex offenders highlighting their pivotal role in preventing further sexual crimes.

Other renowned lecturers involved in the teaching activities are: Prof. Ben-Shachar, Prof. Grahang, Col. Giampietro Lago, Dr. Robert Lehmann, Dr. Andreas Mokros, and Prof. Angelo Zappala’. Lectures such as the ones described above are incorporated in a ‘one-of-a-kind’ training curriculum that revolves around four trial simulations related to the crimes of child sexual abuse, homicide, rape and war crimes. In each of the four modules participants attend lectures and are guided by the main tutor, Mr. Alessandro Tadei, to explore the case material of each simulation and to prepare their assigned role as defence lawyers, prosecutors and expert witnesses. The role assigned to each student changes throughout the course, thus allowing all the participants to explore the legal and psychological dimension of each case.

Should you wish to find out more about the programme’s content and structure you can visit the dedicated webpage.