Orne, M. T., Whitehouse, W. G., Orne, E. C., Dinges, D. F., & Nadon, R. Commentary on the Home Office Circular No. 66 The Home Office position on forensic hypnosis: Comments based on the American experience. British Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, 1989, 6, 38-40.

Commentary on the 1988 Home Office Circular No. 66


Martin T. Orne, Wayne G. Whitehouse, Emily Carota Orne, David F. Dinges and Robert Nadon

The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital and University of Pennsylvania, USA

The most serious problem in the investigative use of hypnosis is the potential for the recollections of the hypnotized witness to become profoundly altered as a by-product of the attempt to uncover new evidence. In the laboratory this has been documented in several ways: confident reporting of inaccurate information (Dywan and Bowers, 1983; Nogrady et al., 1985; Whitehouse et al., 1988); increased certitude about previously recalled information (Sheehan, 1988; Whitehouse et al., 1988); and vulnerability to information suggested during hypnosis (Laurence and Perry, 1983; Sheehan et al., 1984). The data are quite clear that these memory transformations occur more readily when hypnosis is used than when it is not used. Furthermore, they occur in cases where hypnosis results in additional accurate recollections as well as in cases where the additional recall is largely erroneous. Thus, it is virtually certain that, following hypnosis, the witness will have revised to some extent his or her prehypnotic account of the events in question. To compound the problem, there is no means by which the authorities or jurors can independently evaluate the accuracy of an eyewitness report. Accordingly, unless the hypnosis leads to the discovery of novel physical evidence that can stand on its own, reliance on the witness's hypnotically 'refreshed' recollections is not a safe alternative.

The strong recommendation of the Home Office against the use of hypnosis in police investigations is a prudent and pragmatic response to this problem. It recognizes the increased unreliability of hypnotically elicited recall over and above the vagaries of normal waking recall. It anticipates, as well, the probable inadmissibility in the courts of evidence obtained through hypnosis, given the present disposition of the Crown Court against such evidence and the experience of the United States judicial system. Further, while fortunately rare, the fact that psychological complications can occur mandates that its use be restricted to qualified mental health professionals. For precisely this reason the position of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (1979), the International Society of Hypnosis (1979), and the American Medical Association (1985) has been that only trained psychiatrists or psychologists with experience in the forensic use of hypnosis should conduct such interviews.

Despite the many cogent arguments against the forensic use of hypnosis outlined in the Home Office Circular, its use is not prohibited outright; rather it is stated that the 'final decision on whether to use hypnosis in a particular case rests with the chief officer of the force concerned'. Thus, there will inevitably be circumstances in which



39 Commentary on Home Office Circular No. 66

some police forces will elect to use hypnosis. It is likely to be within the context of a major case when considerable pressure is placed upon the police, and the Chief Officer decides to risk the problems that may arise. Particularly under these circumstances it is crucial that hypnosis be carried out following procedural guidelines. These are outlined in a report on the forensic use of hypnosis by the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association (1985) and they are spelled out in detail in the US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice Issues and Practices series, entitled 'Hypnotically refreshed testimony: Enhanced memory or tampering with evidence?' (Orne et al., 1985).

It should be recognized that without strictly applied rules of evidence pertaining to the use of hypnosis in criminal investigations, great variability in the quality and integrity of hypnosis interviews will occur regardless of the good intentions of the parties involved. This has been the experience of courts in the United States and is the reason why most jurisdictions that permit any forensic use of hypnosis now require adherence to the guidelines adopted by the state of New Jersey (State v Hurd 1981).

Although guidelines cannot prevent transformations of memory during hypnosis (for these occur even in controlled laboratory contexts), they do make it possible for experts to review the videotapes and determine what memories the subject brought to the session, what suggestions and information were provided by the hypnotist, and what memories were brought forth for the first time in (or following) hypnosis. A brief summary of some of the major points contained in these guidelines follows:

(1) The person conducting the hypnosis should be a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist, trained in both clinical and forensic applications of hypnosis, who is impartial and professionally independent of both defense and prosecution.

(2) All contact between the hypnotist and the individual to be hypnotized should be videotaped from their initial introduction to the conclusion of the interview session, with a clock in constant view of the camera to permit a later assessment of the continuity of the tape recording.

(3) Verbal communication should be avoided between the hypnotist and others involved in the case prior to, and during, the interview. Whatever communications are necessary should be written and preserved as part of the permanent record of the proceedings.

(4) Only the hypnotist and subject should be present during the prehypnosis discussion, the hypnotic session, and the posthypnosis discussion.

(5) The interview should begin with a brief evaluation of the subject's mental status. This is followed by carefully eliciting a detailed narrative description of the facts of the case in order to establish a videotaped record of what the subject remembers before hypnosis is introduced.

(6) Only after the witness has given an exhaustive waking description of the events in question should hypnosis be induced. At this time the hypnotist should exercise great caution to avoid shaping the content of the subject's narrative report through the systematic use of verbal reinforcers such as 'Good', 'That's right', etc.

(7) After hypnosis is terminated, the hypnotist must elicit from the subject a detailed report of what he now remembers and then explore the subject's experiences during hypnosis. As stated earlier, the videotape should be kept running until after the subject leaves.

(8) The planning of the hypnosis session should include provisions for making


40 Orne, Whitehouse, Orne, Dinges, and Nadon

clinical follow-up available to the victim or witness if it appears to be clinically indicated or if the subject requests it.

In sum, we believe that the Home Office has clearly stated many of the issues that have led most appellate courts in the USA to exclude testimony based on memories that were first brought forth in hypnosis. It would avoid a great deal of future difficulty if the Home Office were to mandate the guidelines for the investigative use of hypnosis. To follow them from the beginning does not entail much extra expenditure of time and effort, whereas the failure to follow them and to then permit a witness who has been hypnotized to testify is likely to ultimately result in a serious miscarriage of justice that could have been prevented.


The substantive research upon which this commentary is based was supported in part by grants 82-IJ-CX-0007 and 87-IJ-CX-0052 from the National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice, by grant MH-19156 from the National Institute of Mental Health, US Public Health Service, and by a grant from the Institute for Experimental Psychiatry Research Foundation.


Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association (1985). Scientific status of refreshing recollection by the use of hypnosis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 253, 1918-1923.

Dywan, J. and Bowers, KS. (1983). The use of hypnosis to enhance recall. Science, 222, 184-185.

International Society of Hypnosis (1979). Resolution. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 27, 453.

Laurence. J.-R. and Perry, C. (1983). Hypnotically created memory among highly hypnotizable subjects. Science, 222, 523-524.

Nogrady, H., McConkey, K.M. and Perry, C. (1985). Enhancing visual memory: Trying hypnosis, trying imagination, and trying again. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 195-204.

Orne, M.T., Soskis, D.A., Dinges, D.F., Orne, E.C. and Tonry, M.H., (1985). Hypnotically refreshed testimony: Enhanced memory or tampering with evidence? Issues and Practices in Criminal Justice, pp. 41-49. Washington DC: National Institute of Justice.

Sheehan, P.W. (1988). Memory distortion in hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 36, 296-311.

Sheehan, P.W., Grigg, L., and McCann, T. (1984). Memory distortion following exposure to false information in hypnosis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93, 259-265.

Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (1979). Resolution. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 27, 452.

State v Hurd, 432 A.2d 86 (NJ 1981).

Whitehouse, W.G., Dinges, D.F., Orne, E.C. and Orne, M.T. (1988). Hypnotic hypermnesia: Enhanced memory accessibility or report bias? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97, 289-295.

Address for correspondence:

Martin T Orne, MD, PhD,

Unit for Experimental Psychiatry, The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, 111 North 49th Street,

Philadelphia, PA 19139-2798,


The preceding paper is a reproduction of the following article (Orne, M. T., Whitehouse, W. G., Orne, E. C., Dinges, D. F., & Nadon, R. Commentary on the 1988 Home Office Circular No. 66 The Home Office position on forensic hypnosis: Comments based on the American experience. British Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, 1989, 6, 38-40.). It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Whurr Publishers Ltd. Note that the British Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis is now titled Contemporary Hypnosis.