What is forensic transcription?

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What is forensic transcription?

Increasingly, evidence in criminal trials takes the form of covert recordings – speech captured without the knowledge of the speakers, using a hidden listening device or telephone intercept.

Legally obtained covert recordings potentially provide very valuable evidence, not available from any other source, which can greatly assist in establishing guilt or innocence.

However, there is a problem with this kind of digital evidence. Due to the uncontrolled conditions under which they are obtained, covert recordings are often of very poor quality. Indeed the audio is frequently so indistinct it is difficult to be sure what words (if any) are spoken – either throughout a longer recording or in a specific ‘disputed utterance’ (hear some examples).

In such cases, a transcript is needed to help the jury, and the court as a whole, to make out what is said in the covert recording.

The question is, how to be sure an inaccurate transcript does not ‘help’ listeners to hear the wrong words, perhaps making an innocent person seem guilty, or a guilty one innocent?

Forensic transcription is the branch of phonetics (the science of speech) that investigates that question –  in general, and in specific cases.

Why we need forensic phonetics

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