My experience of the Cross Examination Exercise with the Avon and Somerset Police

Earlier this month, law students were given the opportunity to take part in a cross-examination exercise with Avon and Somerset Police. Final year LLB student Sophia Manley shares her insight into the exercise – including what a cross-examination is, the role she and other law students played, and her highlight of the event. 

Final year LLB student Sophia Manley

What is a cross-examination exercise? 

Cross examination is a fundamental part of criminal trials in the courts. This takes place after the evidence ‘in chief’ is given by a witness (which can be a video recorded interview when the witness is a child) or defendant whereby opposing counsel then questions (cross-examines) them with the aim of undermining the evidence provided. Thus, testing the evidence to cast doubt as to the reliability of such and/or the credibility of the witness, in order to weaken their opponent’s case.   

In obtaining evidence from interviews conducted (with victims, witnesses) the police must adhere as far as is possible with the Achieving Best Evidence Guidance, which aims to enhance the reliability and accuracy of the evidence collected and withstand cross-examination. The guidance provides extensive detail covering every stage of the official police interview process (preparation, planning, questioning etc.). 

  • If there is a lack of adherence, for example: 
  • If officers lead their witnesses to certain answers through leading questions e.g ‘A man cut your hair yesterday, didn’t he?’ 
  • If officers do not ensure (as far as is possible) their witness understands the importance of telling the truth 
  • If officers omit the use of any open questions e.g. ‘tell me everything that happened’ which encourages the witness to provide a free recall of the event which is likely to elicit more information  

…this risks tainting the evidence/admissibility of it and such a significant departure from the guidance is unlikely to be justified.  

How were you involved in the cross-examination exercise? 

In this exercise we were each responsible for the cross examination of an officer specialising in investigating crimes against children, in which the officer’s answers were assessed as part of their training. Each officer had prepared for and carried out a (recorded) interview with a child, questioning them about their recent haircut (the ‘incident’). We had to consult the Achieving Best Evidence Guidance (paying close attention to the guidance regarding child witnesses) while going through the officers’ notes and recordings, noting any issues which involved a lack of compliance/departure from the guidance. We then had to compose a list of questions to put forward to our officer, testing their knowledge. 

During the event I posed my questions, thinking on my feet as to how to follow up the officer’s answers, careful to listen to the information I was being told and shape my rebuttals accordingly. Many of us referenced time marks in the recorded interviews to draw attention to and prod at any contentious issues, for example when the officers opted to not follow a certain line of questioning. It was a challenging task, for both me and the officer (I believe!), requiring quick thinking and clear articulation of questions and answers. The officers were very knowledgeable and proved difficult to shake, although I believe we were all able to spot potential areas of non-compliance that could be addressed going forward. 

During the task another student and myself were given an extra officer to question so had to quickly go over the interview materials to prepare questions before cross-examining within the hour. This was an exciting opportunity and working under pressure pushed us to be as efficient and effective with our time as we could! 

What was a highlight of the event?

A highlight of the event (aside from the cross-examination) was the opportunity we had to talk to the officers and experienced professionals who were involved in the exercise. We were able to discuss their experience with criminal cases, obtaining evidence from witnesses (especially the challenges that arise with child witnesses), and how they have experienced the law of Evidence from the perspective of the police. We also spoke about the importance of the Achieving Best Evidence Guidance, how such is regularly updated, and the research being conducted that aids these updates e.g., analysing the effectiveness of different types of questions to pose to children. This was an invaluable learning opportunity, and it was very interesting to delve further into an area of law so important to legal proceedings.

“This was an incredible (while a bit of a daunting) opportunity which allowed us to put our knowledge and research into action in a professional setting. It also enabled us to test and improve our public speaking skills and put our interests in the academic side of Evidence law into practice.”


Why did you apply for this exercise? 

I applied for this experience after completing the Evidence law module in my second year. I thoroughly enjoyed studying the materials and learning about the rules governing the admissibility of evidence and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to gain first-hand experience and refine my skills. 

I am also passionate about pursuing a career at the bar and this experience provided an opportunity to better equip myself to do so. This was an exercise in advocacy, public speaking, and illustrative of a real-life cross examination and the challenges that come with it (e.g., getting answers to your questions you may not be expecting!). 

Ultimately, this experience was incredibly useful as I have learnt so much, advanced my abilities that will aid my career aspirations and put my academics/knowledge into practice. 

My thanks go to John Peake and Roger George for facilitating and organising this opportunity, the officers who kindly allowed us to grill (cross-examine!) them, and the support staff involved in this exercise who shared their experience and knowledge.  

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