Response to Call to Action

On 8 December 2017, two peak linguistics organisations delivered a Call to Action to the Australian judiciary, seeking review and reform of the handling of covert recordings used as evidence in criminal trials. We have recently received a response.

Here’s the text of Call to Action

“We write on behalf of the Australian Linguistic Society (ALS) and the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia (ALAA).

“These organisations wish to call on the Australian judiciary, through you, to review and reform the legal handling of covert recordings used as evidence in Australian courts. As explained in the attached article, there are substantial problems with the processes developed within the law over the past 30 years that are creating actual and potential injustice in our courts.

“These problems relate to four main areas:

  • translation of covert recordings in languages other than standard Australian English
  • transcription of indistinct English in covert recordings
  • attribution of utterances in covert recordings to particular speakers
  • use of ‘enhanced’ versions of poor-quality covert recordings.

“We would be grateful if you could circulate this document to relevant organisations.

“We have established a Reference Group on covert recordings, chaired by Dr Helen Fraser, to facilitate discussion of these matters. Perhaps you might encourage formation of a similar group of appropriate representatives from law and law enforcement, to liaise with our group.

“We believe the best starting point is to convene a 1-2 day workshop to discuss the issues raised by the attached article and related materials, to be held in the first quarter of 2018. We would like to hear back from you with a formal response by the end of February. In the meantime we are available for informal discussion or consultation on any aspect.”

Here’s the response

“I write to advise that the matter raised in your letter is being actively looked within the AIJA. I have referred the matter to the Council of Chief Justices and I have been advised that it will be on the agenda of the Council at its meeting in early April.

“I have approached a number of people in relation to the matter but I am yet to form a group which I would be happy with to liaise with you.

“So far as the idea of a Workshop is concerned, we are fully committed with educational events until later in the year. We have a large conference which is due to take place towards the end of May which is concerned with Forces of Change and the Administration of Justice. It would not be appropriate to include matters relating to Butera in that event.

“I have put the matter on the AIJA education agenda and we will look to see if it is possible to convene an event later in 2018.

“I think that the best way of moving forward is through the Council of Chief Justices.”

Next steps

This response shows some promise, and the Reference Group are grateful to Prof Reinhardt for his support. We  are working actively with him and others to publicise our concerns more widely among Australian judges and judicial organisations. For example, I recently gave presentation to the NSW Judicial Commission, which was well received, with judges expressing genuine and thoughtful concern regarding the issues raised (video is available for judges – ask how to view it). The only problem was there was not enough time for discussion of solutions.

If you can help in publicising these issues and concerns, please do. Just learning about them yourself is a big step in the right direction. Please take some time to explore this website. The videos of recent presentations are often found to be an efficient way to gain appreciation of the issues, but feel free to follow your own trail round the top menu and sidebars. Comments or questions are always welcome.

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