Reference Group materials

NEW Short paper (2000 words) summarising Call to Action issues for NSW Judicial Officers Bulletin – now published:

Call to Action documents

Background to Call to Action (videos give most painless intro)

Two papers you are asked to read when you can

This paper outlines a number of serious problems arising from the handling within the legal process of covert recordings used as evidence in criminal trials. These problems relate specifically to four key areas, namely: translation of material in languages other than English, transcription of indistinct English, attribution of utterances to speakers, and ‘enhancing’ of poor quality audio. The paper traces the problems back to the landmark High Court judgment of Butera 1987, and attributes them to insufficient understanding within the judiciary of well-established but counter-intuitive findings of linguistic science regarding factors that affect the reliable interpretation of recorded speech. Several possible solutions to the problems are canvassed, and it is recommended that the most promising way forward is via enhanced communication and collaboration between law, law enforcement and linguistic science.

Everyday knowledge about language and speech, or ‘folk linguistics’, incorporates a number of false beliefs that have a negative effect in a range of areas, nowhere more so than in the criminal justice system (e.g. Solan, Ainsworth & Shuy, 2015). One lesser known area where false beliefs have a major impact is forensic transcription (interpretation of indistinct covert recordings used as evidence in criminal trials). Without consultation of the linguistic sciences, the law has developed processes that allow police transcripts to ‘assist’ the courts in making out unintelligible covert recordings (Fraser 2017a). The present article uses a case study of a real murder trial to bring the actual and potential injustice this creates to the attention of linguistic science, and examine the issues from a linguistics perspective. Having laid out the problem, it goes on to consider potential solutions, arguing that creating a better process requires deep collaboration between linguistics, law and law enforcement. From linguists, it requires improved theoretical understanding of the nature and structure of the false beliefs that underlie the existing legal processes, as well as development of a more general theoretical account of the process of transcription and the nature of transcripts.

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