The early use of polygraph tests in Australia

In Australia, the use of polygraph testing in criminal investigations began in the early 20th century. These tests, which measure physiological responses such as heart rate and blood pressure, were seen as a promising tool for determining the truthfulness of suspects and witnesses.

One of the earliest documented cases of polygraph use in Australia dates back to 1912, when a police officer in New South Wales administered a lie detector test to a suspect in a murder investigation. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that polygraphs began to be used more widely in criminal investigations in Australia.

A vintage black-and-white image of a lady taking the polygraph exam

During this time, the Australian Federal Police began to use polygraph tests in their investigations, with a particular focus on national security cases. For example, in the 1960s, the police administered polygraph tests to employees of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in order to screen for potential security risks.

At the same time, there were concerns among legal professionals about the reliability of polygraph tests, as well as the ethical and legal implications of using such tests as evidence in court. In 1963, a judge in the Victorian Supreme Court refused to accept polygraph evidence, saying that “the validity of the polygraph as a way to determine guilt or innocence is by no means beyond question.”

Despite these concerns, polygraph tests continued to be used in some criminal investigations in Australia throughout the latter half of the 20th century. However, there was no consistent approach to their use, with different police forces and courts taking varying positions on the admissibility and reliability of polygraph evidence.

Overall, while polygraph tests have been used in Australia for almost a century, their use in criminal investigations and in court has been controversial and inconsistent.


An overview of the current use of polygraph tests in Australia

Female lie detector examinee dressed in black


One of the most common uses of polygraph tests in Australia is for employment screening, particularly in government and law enforcement roles. Some government agencies require applicants to undergo polygraph testing as part of their background check, with the aim of identifying any potential security risks or dishonest behavior.

Another use of polygraph tests in Australia is in the investigation of specific crimes. However, the use of polygraph tests in criminal investigations is generally more limited than in the past, and there is no consistent approach to their use across different police forces or jurisdictions.

Despite the continued use of polygraph tests in some circumstances, their admissibility as evidence in court remains a contentious issue. In general, the Australian legal system has been skeptical of the reliability of polygraph tests, and there have been only a few cases where polygraph evidence has been admitted in court.

In some cases, polygraph evidence has been admitted in the context of plea bargaining, where a defendant agrees to take a polygraph test in exchange for a more lenient sentence. However, even in these cases, the admissibility of polygraph evidence is generally at the discretion of the judge.

This article will explore the various uses of polygraph tests in Australia, including employment screening and criminal investigations, as well as the debates surrounding their accuracy and reliability. It will also examine the legal precedents and guidelines for the admissibility of polygraph evidence in Australian courts, including the opinions of legal experts and the experiences of those who have been affected by the use of polygraph tests in legal proceedings.


The current legal framework governing the use of polygraphs in Australia

Currently, there is no national legislation in Australia that specifically regulates the use of polygraph tests. Instead, the admissibility of polygraph evidence is determined on a case-by-case basis, with judges making decisions based on a range of factors, including the reliability of the test results and the relevance of the evidence to the case.

In recent years, there have been calls for greater regulation of polygraph testing in Australia, with some experts arguing that specific legislation is needed to ensure that the tests are administered and interpreted in a consistent and reliable manner. However, there is currently no consensus on the best way to regulate polygraph testing, and the debate surrounding its admissibility in court continues to be a complex and controversial issue.


Current debate and controversies surrounding polygraph admissibility in Australian courts

Polygraph screen being observed by examiner

Polygraph admissibility in Australian courts remains a highly contested issue. While the use of polygraphs has been banned in some states, other states still allow them as part of criminal investigations. However, even in those states where polygraphs are allowed, their admissibility in court remains a controversial topic.

One of the main concerns with polygraphs is their reliability. While proponents argue that they are an effective tool for detecting deception, critics argue that polygraphs are not foolproof and can produce both false positives and false negatives. The accuracy of polygraphs is particularly questioned when it comes to innocent people who may be falsely accused of a crime.

Another concern is the potential for polygraphs to be used as a coercive tool. Critics argue that polygraph examinations can be intimidating, particularly for vulnerable individuals such as those with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities. The use of polygraphs can therefore be seen as an abuse of power by law enforcement and a violation of the rights of the accused.

There is also the question of the scientific basis of polygraphs. Critics argue that the scientific validity of polygraphy has not been sufficiently established and that the techniques used are not supported by adequate empirical evidence. This has led to calls for the use of polygraphs to be banned outright in Australia.

In recent years, there have been some efforts to regulate the use of polygraphs in criminal investigations. For example, in 2015, the New South Wales Parliament passed the Forensic Procedures Amendment (Polygraph Testing) Act, which regulates the use of polygraphs in criminal investigations in that state. Under the act, polygraphs can only be used with the consent of the person being tested, and the results cannot be used as evidence in court.


Various regulations governing the admissibility of polygraphs in court in different Australian states

When it comes to the admissibility of polygraph evidence in court, the laws differ across different Australian states. In New South Wales and Victoria, the results of polygraph tests are generally not admissible as evidence in court, while in Queensland, polygraph evidence is only admissible if all parties involved agree to it.

In South Australia, the Evidence Act 1929 allows for the results of polygraph tests to be admitted as evidence in criminal proceedings, but only if certain conditions are met. For example, the test must have been conducted by a qualified examiner, the subject must have consented to the test, and the prosecution and defense must agree to the admission of the evidence.

In Western Australia, the Evidence Act 1906 does not specifically address the admissibility of polygraph evidence, but the general rule is that evidence must be relevant, reliable, and fair to be admissible. Polygraph evidence would need to meet these criteria to be admitted in court.

In Tasmania and the Northern Territory, there are no specific laws governing the admissibility of polygraph evidence. However, the general rule of evidence applies, which requires that evidence be relevant, reliable, and fair to be admissible.

It’s important to note that even if polygraph evidence is allowed in court, it is still subject to challenge and cross-examination. The reliability and validity of polygraph tests are often disputed, and the court will weigh the evidence against other factors in the case before making a decision on its admissibility and weight.


Ethical and procedural guidelines related to the use of polygraph tests in Australia

View from above of a girl doing the lie detector test

One of the key ethical considerations surrounding polygraph testing is the issue of informed consent. Before a test can be administered, the individual being tested must be fully informed of the nature of the test and the potential implications of the results. This includes informing the individual of their right to refuse the test without any negative consequences.

Another important ethical consideration is the issue of confidentiality. The results of a polygraph test are considered highly sensitive and should be treated as such. This means that only authorized individuals should have access to the results, and they should only be used for the specific purpose for which they were obtained.

In addition to these ethical considerations, there are also procedural guidelines that govern the use of polygraph tests in Australia. These guidelines are designed to ensure that the tests are administered in a consistent and reliable manner.


Impact of these guidelines on the admissibility of polygraph evidence in court

When it comes to the admissibility of polygraph evidence in court, ethical and procedural guidelines play a significant role. In Australia, these guidelines have been established by various organizations, including the Australian Polygraph Association, the Australian Psychological Society, and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology.

These guidelines might have a significant impact on the admissibility of polygraph evidence in court. The courts consider ethical and procedural guidelines when determining whether to admit polygraph evidence. If the examiner has not followed these guidelines, the court is less likely to admit the evidence.



Throughout this article, we have explored the role of polygraphs in Australia, the current debate and controversies surrounding their admissibility, recent developments in policy and legal guidelines related to their use, specific laws in different Australian states regarding their admissibility in court, ethical and procedural guidelines related to their use, and the impact of these guidelines on the admissibility of polygraph evidence in court.

Despite these developments, the impact of polygraph evidence on court proceedings in Australia remains limited. The vast majority of jurisdictions do not recognize polygraph testing as reliable or valid enough, and courts are unlikely to admit polygraph evidence unless it is supported by other corroborating evidence. This means that while polygraph tests may be used in certain circumstances, they are not typically a significant factor in criminal investigations or court proceedings.