In recent years, lie detector tests, also known as polygraph tests, have gained significant popularity in Australia. These tests are designed to measure an individual’s physiological responses to determine if they are telling the truth or being deceptive. The rise in the use of lie detector tests can be attributed to their potential benefits in various sectors, such as criminal investigations, employment screenings, and relationship disputes. This article delves into the reasons behind the popularity of lie detector tests in Australia and explores how they can help in different situations.

1. Lie Detector Tests in Australia: An Overview

What is a Lie Detector Test?

A lie detector test, or polygraph test, is a scientific technique that measures an individual’s physiological responses, such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and skin conductivity, to determine if they are being truthful or deceptive. A trained polygraph examiner administers the test, asking a series of questions to the subject while monitoring their physiological reactions. The examiner then analyzes the data to determine whether the subject’s responses indicate deception.

In Australia, the application of polygraph tests is highly regulated by law. For instance, the state of New South Wales (NSW) has stringent regulations in place under the 1983 Lie Detector Act which either restricts or outright prohibits the use of polygraph tests in certain circumstances.

Employees in NSW are safeguarded from being forced to take a lie detector test. In other regions of Australia, while employers can propose the use of such a test, it requires the explicit consent of the employee. Furthermore, it is generally advised that these tests should only be administered when there is a specific instance of dishonest behavior, and there exists a reasonable suspicion implicating the employee as the wrongdoer.

The admissibility of polygraph lie detector test results in court has been a matter of contention. A landmark case, R v Murray, in 1981, set a significant precedent in the District Court of New South Wales, Australia, when the court dismissed polygraph evidence in a criminal trial.

Raymond George Murray, the defendant, was accused of firing shots at police officers, which he steadfastly denied. To corroborate his denial of the charges, Murray attempted to submit polygraph test results during the trial. He wished to present the testimony of a polygraph examiner who would assert that, according to the test, Murray was truthful in his denials.

However, District Court Judge Sinclair rejected the polygraph evidence on several grounds:

  • The proposed evidence was intended solely to support Murray’s credibility. Nevertheless, it is the jury’s responsibility to evaluate the defendant’s truthfulness and credibility.
  • While the polygraph test implied expert evidence, the proposed examiner was not a certified expert but merely a machine operator and evaluator.
  • The scientific foundations of polygraph tests hadn’t been validated by any Australian court.
  • Since the scientific basis for the polygraph test was unproven and unrecognized, the polygraph evidence was considered hearsay and lacked probative value.
  • Even if the polygraph evidence had been admissible, the examiner wasn’t suitably qualified to provide an expert opinion on the subject.

Judge Sinclair concluded that admitting such evidence contravenes the fundamental principles of evidence law in New South Wales. Despite its intrigue for some individuals, he asserted that a polygraph test has no place in New South Wales’ criminal trials.

This case led to the enactment of the Lie Detectors Act 1983 (NSW), which regulates devices that record or monitor another person’s physiological reactions or variations in stress, tone, or vibration in their voice. Section 6(1) of the Act declares any result or analysis from such a test as inadmissible in court, even with the consent of all parties.

Offences Pertaining to Polygraph Testing in New South Wales

The Lie Detectors Act 1983 (NSW) criminalizes the use of polygraph tests in various scenarios, including:

  • Employment-related matters such as job applications, employment offers, employment conditions, or promotion processes.
  • The process of establishing an insurance policy or contract, settling or paying an insurance claim.
  • Payment of any compensation for loss or damage.
  • An application for any form of financial accommodation.
  • Determining whether a person is guilty of an action or omission punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

Violators can face a fine of up to $1,100 or $5,500 if the offender is a corporation. The fine can double for a second or subsequent offence.

While the Act prevents polygraph evidence from being presented in court, it doesn’t prohibit the police from utilizing such tests in their investigations.”

2. The Rising Popularity of Lie Detector Tests in Australia

A. Media Influence

One of the primary factors contributing to the popularity of lie detector tests in Australia is their portrayal in popular culture and media. Television shows, movies, and news reports often depict polygraph examinations as a powerful tool for uncovering the truth, generating public interest and curiosity about the tests.

B. Increasing Demand in Various Sectors

Lie detector tests have found applications in a wide range of sectors in Australia. Their use in criminal investigations, employment screenings, national security, and personal matters has led to an increased demand for polygraph services. As a result, more individuals and organizations are exploring the potential benefits of lie detector tests in various situations.

C. Growing Public Awareness

Increased public awareness of the potential benefits and limitations of lie detector tests has also contributed to their popularity in Australia. Information about the tests is now more readily available through educational resources, professional organizations, and the internet, making it easier for individuals to understand how lie detector tests work and how they can be applied in various situations.

3. How Lie Detector Tests Can Help

A. Criminal Investigations

In criminal investigations, lie detector tests can be a valuable tool for law enforcement agencies. By detecting deception, polygraph tests can help corroborate or refute suspects’ statements, identify potential leads, and narrow down the focus of an investigation. While not admissible as evidence in court in Australia, lie detector test results can still provide valuable insights to guide investigators in the right direction.

B. Employment Screenings

Employers in Australia, particularly those in high-security industries or positions of trust, are increasingly using lie detector tests as part of their pre-employment screening process. Polygraph tests can help employers assess the integrity and trustworthiness of potential employees, uncovering any potential issues or discrepancies that may not be apparent from traditional background checks.

C. National Security

In the realm of national security, lie detectortests play a crucial role in ensuring the protection of sensitive information and assets. Government agencies and defense organizations in Australia may utilize polygraph tests to screen personnel for security clearances, ensuring that individuals with access to classified information are trustworthy and reliable.

D. Relationship Disputes and Personal Matters

Lie detector tests are also increasingly being used in Australia to resolve personal matters and relationship disputes. Whether it’s infidelity concerns, family disputes, or issues involving trust, polygraph tests can provide an objective means of verifying the truthfulness of an individual’s claims. By providing clarity and evidence in such sensitive situations, lie detector tests can help restore trust and rebuild relationships.

E. Insurance Fraud and Workplace Investigations

Insurance companies and businesses in Australia are also turning to lie detector tests as a tool to combat fraud and resolve workplace disputes. Polygraph examinations can help detect fraudulent claims or uncover dishonest activities by employees, saving companies valuable resources and time. Additionally, lie detector tests can be used to resolve workplace harassment or discrimination cases, ensuring a fair and unbiased investigation.

4. Limitations and Ethical Considerations

A. Accuracy and Reliability

While lie detector tests can provide valuable insights and assistance in various situations, it’s important to recognize that they are not infallible. Factors such as the examiner’s skill, the subject’s psychological state, and the use of countermeasures can impact the accuracy and reliability of the test results. Consequently, lie detector tests should be used in conjunction with other forms of evidence and investigative methods to ensure a comprehensive and accurate outcome.

B. Privacy and Consent

The use of lie detector tests in Australia must adhere to privacy regulations and ethical guidelines. It’s essential to obtain informed consent from the subject before administering the test and to ensure that the examination process is conducted with respect for the individual’s rights and dignity. Additionally, the results of the test should be treated with confidentiality to protect the subject’s privacy.

In the past, the use of polygraph testing in Australia has been quite restricted. Between 1978 and 1980, six individuals charged with serious criminal offenses in New South Wales were subjected to polygraph examinations by a private examiner. On rare occasions, defendants have attempted to introduce the results of these tests at trial in order to clear their names (e.g., R v Murray (1981) 7 A Crim R 48 and the recent appeal by Andrew Mallard) or by journalists investigating controversial cases. In 1981, for instance, a reporter arranged for a convicted murderer’s wife to undergo a polygraph test to support her alibi and her claim that her husband had been wrongfully convicted.

In 1987, Inspector Prins of the Tasmanian Police Department conducted a study tour in England, Scotland, and the United States to explore police interrogation techniques. As a result, he recommended that all Australian police forces consider making polygraph testing mandatory for crime suspects. However, his recommendations were not implemented. At present, it is estimated that only about six individuals in Australia conduct polygraph testing, most of whom are members of the American Polygraph Association (APA) and former police officers. These individuals typically received their initial training in polygraph testing in the United States while serving in Australian state police forces.

Although there has been some interest in using polygraph testing in both the criminal justice and private sectors in Australia, it remains minimal compared to the extensive, widespread use of the technique in other countries. Polygraph testing is now conducted in many nations, particularly in the United States, where the recent history of polygraph testing has seen significant changes in government policy. These developments are relevant to Australia, as similar issues must be considered when determining the potential use and regulation of polygraph testing in the country.

Conclusion

The popularity of lie detector tests in Australia can be attributed to their potential benefits in various sectors, such as criminal investigations, employment screenings, relationship disputes, and more. While these tests can offer valuable insights and help resolve complex issues, it’s important to recognize their limitations and ensure that they are used ethically and responsibly. By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of lie detector tests and employing them in appropriate situations, individuals and organizations in Australia can leverage this powerful tool to uncover the truth and make informed decisions.

While polygraph test results are generally inadmissible as evidence in court proceedings in Australia, there have been cases where polygraph evidence has been discussed or considered. Below are two examples:

  1. R v Murray (1981) – District Court of New South Wales In this case, the court ruled that polygraph test results were inadmissible as evidence due to concerns about the reliability of the test, the potential for prejudice against the defendant, and the impact on the jury’s role in determining the facts of the case. This decision serves as a significant precedent in Australian law with respect to the inadmissibility of polygraph test results in court proceedings.
  2. Bunning v Cross (1978) – High Court of Australia While this case does not specifically involve the use of polygraph results in court, it did set a precedent regarding the admissibility of expert evidence in general. In Bunning v Cross, the High Court of Australia established a two-stage test for determining the admissibility of expert evidence, which includes considering its relevance and reliability. Although the case did not involve a polygraph test, the principles established in this case may have an impact on the potential admissibility of polygraph evidence in future cases, as it emphasizes the importance of reliability and relevance in expert evidence.

It is important to note that these cases do not represent instances where polygraph results were admitted as evidence in court, but rather they illustrate the legal context and precedent surrounding the admissibility of polygraph tests in Australian courts.