How Widely Polygraph Machines are used in the UK?


After accepting that lie detector tests used on the show were not 100% accurate, the producers of ITV’s Jeremy Kyle Show have been regarded as “irresponsible”.

Talking to a parliamentary inquiry launched after the death of a contestant who did not pass a test on the show, the network’s chief administrator Dame Carolyn McCall said they would not make any same series involving lie detectors in the future.

What are lie detectors?

Lie detectors – or polygraphs – gauge several bodily responses, such as sweaty palms or blood pressure, to identify traits associated with lying.

Advocates assert that when carried out by professionals in the correct conditions, the accuracy is approximated to be between 80 and 90%.

However, the American Psychological Association advises that people should “remain skeptical about any conclusion drawn from a polygraph”.

No-one says the tests are 100% accurate, but lie detectors can be and are used in the UK.

Who uses lie detector tests?

The most prominent use in the UK is by the probation service.

The choice to use lie detector tests on serious sex offenders on parole in Wales and England has been in place ever since 2007 but, since 2014, required tests can be attached to a criminal’s release conditions.

It came after Ministry of Justice research presented that sex offenders taking a test were twice as likely to confess breaching release conditions when a polygraph was used.

If a sex offender does not pass a lie detector test, it is “not decisive proof that the person is lying”, but it could lead to additional supervision or investigation.

In February 2018, the Department of Justice said that, after the tests had been announced, 166 sex offenders had been sent to jail after polygraphs flagged concerns about their behavior and had then faced more investigations.

About 50 people were being tested each month.

Similar measures are currently being considered for freed domestic abuse offenders in England and Wales as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill.

At the commencement of the year, an ex-chief of UK immigration enforcement said polygraphs should also be used to identify “signs of deception” by some asylum seekers, but the Home Office overruled the idea.

Probation services and police forces in Northern Ireland and Scotland currently do not use lie detectors.

Can lie detector outcomes be used as evidence?

When a polygraph test is taken, the results cannot be presented in the courts to ascertain a case in the UK, states Ian Kelcey, a criminal law advocate.

“It is not allowable in this country as evidence. Some states in America permit them, but you’re never going to get it admitted here.”

Police can use polygraphs to aid investigations and monitor particular high-risk individuals.

Now, seven police forces in Wales and England use them with present sex offenders and seldom suspects, but this remains deliberate.

Michelle Skeer, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s chief on handling sexual offenders, said: “Work is presently ongoing to understand the benefits of the polygraph in policing and whether its use could be extended in the future. Findings from this research will be assessed this year.

“Any persistent use of polygraph or its expansion will be done with suitable oversight.”

Can employers use lie detectors?

Employers are permitted to offer a lie detector test to staff, but again this must be optional all the time.

Elizabeth Maxwell, an employment law specialist, states that an absence of regulation or a universal standard makes their use unexplored territory.

“An owner could use it, but it would narrow down to whether there are rational grounds for doubting gross misconduct and confirming a fair procedure was followed.

“Polygraph results could be used [in courts], but are usually used to settle arguments before they reach this stage. If they do go beyond, it would be up to a judge to decide whether it’s acceptable.”

Denial to do one should not be used exclusively as evidence of an employee’s guilt, as this is likely to be considered biased, but it can form a portion of a case against an individual.

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