Memory scientist, Julia Shaw, gave a talk at TEDx London in July 2018 about reporting harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Dr Shaw is an honorary research associate at University College London in the Psychology and Language Sciences department.
Women, people of colour and people who identify themselves openly as part of the LGBT community are most at risk of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Some studies have shown that as much as 98% of affected persons will never report this type of mistreatment to their employers.
One barrier to speaking up is the fear that it will be held against us and affect our future prospects in the job. Another is the fact that, often, your memory is the only evidence you have of what happened. Will that be enough to be believed?
Dr Shaw has researched – in courtrooms as well as laboratories – how humans process memory of important and emotionally-charged events.
The interview process is important.
By “interview”, she means also what you might call interviewing yourself. A bad interview can cause you to forget or misremember important details. But a good interview can forever change the victim’s life – your life – for the better.
She had three recommendations for techniques you can apply which will maximise the weight and power of your evidence.
Though these methods are described in the context of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, they can equally be applied to preservation of evidence after you’ve been injured in an accident. Or, indeed, as a means of maximising the quality of the evidence you record after any important event which you may need to revisit later in as much detail as possible.
As we’ll see, the first point is the importance of contemporaneous notes. Secondly, why it’s crucial to understand how and why the type of evidence you record matters. And, finally, how to make sure the evidence is likely to be relevant and therefore helpful.
1. The importance of making notes at the time
After James Comey was fired by President Trump as F.B.I. Director in May 2017, Comey’s practice of keeping detailed, contemporaneous notes – standard F.B.I. practice – helped his evidence stand up in the face of sustained criticism from the White House.
After important meetings, he made sure he wrote down all he could remember about what had taken place. He did that as soon afterwards as possible. He did it before he discussed it with anyone else – something which might have contaminated or distorted his recollection of what had happened.
Unfiltered records made at the time are high quality evidence.
In the context of personal injury claims, people will often end up in hospital shortly after an accident and – while mistakes in note-taking can happen – a high level of importance is generally given to triage and hospital admission notes which may record how the person came to be injured or, say, whether they were wearing a seat belt.
Of course, these notes are not made by the injured person, but they are made very soon after the event, often before the injured person has spoken to anyone else about what happened.
2. Getting evidence in the right form
Okay, so you may have written down what happened “at the time” but the question then becomes: how will you prove to someone else that you made the record at the time?
How can you fix the evidence to a specific point in time?
One way is to use your computer or smartphone and type or audio-record a note that’s time-stamped.
Physical copies of newspapers are not as common as they once were but, if you want to time-stamp a document, one option is to photograph it in the same frame as a particular newspaper edition, where the date of the newspaper is visible. It doesn’t fix the date exactly but it does tend to prove the photo could not have been taken any earlier than that date.
3. Getting relevant evidence
In the history of any occurrence, some things are more significant than others, in terms of evidence.
Pages of texts or Facebook messages – which family law solicitors see a lot of – meet the tests of “notes made at the time” and “time-stamped” but often won’t contain the information that really matters.
The crucial information is the following:
- What happened? Describe the situation in detail.
- Who was there? Were there any witnesses apart from you?
- The date and time it happened.
- The location. Where did it happen? – with as much precision as possible.
- Who you told what had happened, after the event.
- How it made you feel.
- Is there any other evidence? – e.g. texts or emails or photos: things which will add credibility to your story.
Scientific research supports the view that we overestimate our ability to remember important emotional information later on.
You need to proceed on the assumption that you will forget it unless you write it down at the time.
It’s good advice whether we’re talking about an incident of harassment in the workplace or an accident resulting in a personal injury.
Dr Julia Shaw’s research led her, along with others, to set up TalkToSpot.com. This is an online reporting tool that enables you to record and report workplace harassment and discrimination. The evidence-based memory interview process it takes you through is free of charge and can be done anonymously.
If you’re involved in an incident where you think it might be important to have accurate evidence about it later, the three things to concentrate on are:
- Making a good quality note of it as soon as possible afterwards, preferably before discussing it with anyone else.
- Finding a way to “time-stamp” the evidence so the timing of the evidence cannot be disputed later.
- Knowing the relevant issues to cover in your note – which will include things like who, what, when and where.
It’s not about what happened; it’s about what you can prove happened. Getting your evidence in order from the start will maximise the benefit you can extract from it later, if necessary.
How we can help
In this article, we have considered ways to maximise the power and benefit of important evidence we might be at risk of forgetting or misremembering.
Another way would be to tell it to a solicitor as soon as possible after the event. They will then have a good record of what happened and be best placed to decide what further investigations might be needed to bolster your evidence even further.
This is all part of a mantra we repeat frequently on this website: it’s never too early to call your solicitor; but it can be too late.
If you have any questions stemming from this article, please get in touch with us. We’re always trying to make the content of this website as comprehensive and helpful as possible. Your questions enable us to identify ways in which we can review and improve the content on this website.