Validation of forensic facial comparison by morphological analysis in photographic and CCTV samples

Nicholas Bacci (Lead / Corresponding author), Tobias M.R. Houlton, Nanette Briers, Maryna Steyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Between the ever-increasing availability of surveillance evidence and expert-based forensic facial comparison being considered admissible in court, confirming its validity is paramount. Facial comparison is most commonly conducted using morphological analysis (MA), a largely untested feature-based approach. This study aimed at validating the current recommended practice of MA in both standardised and suboptimal surveillance samples. Face pools of 175 South African males were compiled with a series of facial photographs, using images from the Wits Face Database. The first 75 face pools consisted of wildtype (unstandardised) high-quality target photographs, while the remaining 100 face pools consisted of suboptimal closed-circuit television (CCTV) target images. Target images were compared to high-quality standardised photographs. Face pools were analysed using the Facial Identification Scientific Working Group’s guidelines and feature list. Confusion matrices were used to determine the performance of MA in each cohort. MA was found highly accurate (chance-corrected accuracy (CCA): 99.1%) and reliable (κ = 0.921) in the photographic sample and less accurate (CCA: 82.6%) and reliable (κ = 0.743), in the CCTV sample. Higher false-positive and false-negative rates were noted for the CCTV sample, with the majority of errors resulting in false-negative outcomes. The decreased performance in the CCTV sample was attributed to various factors including image quality, angle of recording and lighting. Other studies testing facial comparison identified lower accuracies and reliability across various conditions. Better performance was found here and in other studies that included some form of facial feature list, reinforcing the importance of using a systematic facial feature list.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1965-1981
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Legal Medicine
Early online date16 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • CCTV
  • Face mapping
  • Facial identification
  • Forensic facial comparison
  • Morphological analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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