The key to a good solution

As with any problem, the key to solving this one is good understanding of its causes. Attempting a rapid fix without good understanding of the causes is likely to make things worse rather than better. And it is worth pointing out that the transcription issues raised in the case study interact with other aspects of speech evidence (as demonstrated under Learn More).

In this case, the cause is clear

The law has had too little exposure to relevant findings of phonetic science

When judges first needed to make rulings about covert speech recordings, back in 1987, they did so on the basis of common knowledge.

Our legal system evolves through earlier rulings being applied as precedents in later cases with similar conditions. Unfortunately, with speech evidence, conditions that phonetic science would consider significantly different can be deemed similar on the basis of common knowledge.

Gradually over 30 years, this process has created a hall of mirrors. Case by case, common knowledge has become eroded and distorted.

Law students tell of the surprise they felt when they first heard hours of unintelligible audio being played in court, while a detective assured the jury he had listened many times and was confident his transcript was reliable.

But since it seems unsurprising to those around them, students accept these practices as normal. Soon they are applying the same principles themselves.

The result is that legal principles now routinely applied in the handling of speech evidence actually defy not just phonetic science but everyday experience (as we see in the Causes examples).

An important note

It is important to be clear that nothing in this site implies any disrespect for the law. The very opposite. Our legal process, and the right to a fair trial, are foundational cornerstones of our democracy, worthy of the highest respect.

It is the responsibility of scientists, as of everyone, to assist wherever possible in ensuring all defendants in all our courts enjoy a fair trial.

Indeed it would be reasonable to lay some responsibility at the feet of phonetic science for the poor exposure of law-makers to its relevant findings.

Certainly the solution to the problems exposed on this site lies in increased mutual understanding and collaboration between the law and phonetic science.

This site aims to contribute to that via engaging and accessible materials that will hopefully encourage law-makers and law-enforcers, not to fix the problems themselves but to collaborate with phonetic science to design a system in which it is as unthinkable for indistinct audio to be admitted without a reliable transcript as it is now for a smudged fingerprint to be admitted with a police officer testifying he is sure it belongs to the defendant, and the judge instructing the jury to make up their minds.

Haven’t checked out the case study yet? Please do. It is very informative in general, and raises a number of questions that any rational person must agree require investigation.

Already done that? Please take the opportunity to learn more via the Sidebar Links of the Learn More link.

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