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The (linguistic) presence of the Appropriate Adult in police interviews with juvenile suspects
Aston University, United Kingdom
In England and Wales 17-year-olds are, as juveniles, entitled to special measures when navigating the legal system. This includes the mandatory presence of an Appropriate Adult (AA) during police questioning; a role performed by a parent/guardian (familial relation to suspect) or a social worker/volunteer (non-familial relation). AAs are expected to ensure proper and fair treatment of the suspect and facilitate communication (PACE, 1984). This paper presents findings from an analysis of AAs’ (discursive) contributions in police interviews with 17-year-old suspects in England. It is the first project of its kind, in that it focuses on an actor that has not been investigated from a forensic linguistic perspective before.
In this exploratory study, ten recent interviews with 17-year-old suspects are analysed using a combined micro- and macro-level approach rooted in social constructionism. Conversation Analysis (Sacks et al., 1974) is used to inductively examine interactional structures and to identify the most salient issues in interactions with AAs. By employing Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 2010), these observations are critically evaluated and embedded in the wider context of institutional discourse, age-related legislation and, ultimately, criminal and social justice.
The findings indicate the overall tendency of familial AAs to contribute more; sometimes by providing useful practical information, but other times by violating their instructions when either answering questions on the suspect’s behalf or providing unsolicited feedback in an attempt to attest to their protégé’s good character. This induces the notion of a potential dichotomy between overprotective, familial AAs and unconcerned and perhaps lackadaisical non-familial AAs.
False friends: linguistic difference and inequality in Northern Territory courts
David Campbell Moore
University of Western Australia, Australia
The meaning of words in English varieties can be misleadingly different, for example kill in Central Australian Englishes may be translated as ‘hit’ or ‘strike’ in Standard Australian English (SAE). Misunderstandings of these ‘false friends’ between speakers of SAE, typically legal professionals, and speakers of local Aboriginal Englishes may have serious consequences for Aboriginal defendants who mistakenly confess to a serious charge. In this presentation I explore a recent example of how the term rape was misunderstood in a Northern Territory courtroom and how this issue was addressed through linguistic evidence based upon T.G.H. Strehlow’s affidavit in Stuart v. Crown (1959). This presentation highlights the need for the ongoing engagement of forensic linguists in Northern Territory legal proceedings to identify miscommunications and to provide expert evidence concerning these critical differences in meaning.
What does it mean to understand language about rights? Towards a cognitive-inferential model of understanding
ARDS Aboriginal Corporation, Australia
In the Northern Territory of Australia, police must explain the ‘right to silence’ to Aboriginal suspects who are not native speakers of English in a way that generates and tests ‘apparent understanding’.
The result is conversations between police and suspects about understanding of rights which create some evidence about suspects’ understanding. Lawyers make arguments about understanding based on these conversations, and judges decide whether suspects’ understanding of their rights was good enough.
This paper, based on court decisions quoting transcripts of police–suspect conversations, asks what judges and police mean by understanding and whether there is a theoretically coherent framework for deciding whether someone understands an utterance or text.
Understanding has been described as recontextualisation (Rock 2007), recognising that understanding requires linking new language to some context already known. This paper argues that recipients ‘understand’ language inferentially, using cognitive context to derive interpretations that interact usefully with existing ideas about the world (Sperber & Wilson 1995). How useful or actionable must an interpretation be to amount to understanding?
Language when interpreted by recipients can invoke meaning deterministically or generally. Communicators’ claims vary in precision and credibility, and these variations support some comment on the relationship between ‘understanding’ and ‘believing’.
Models of understanding can support assessments of whether individuals have understood rights, and inform the design of policies and texts aiming to produce understanding using language.
Rock, Frances (2007). Communicating rights: The language of arrest and detention. Palgrave Macmillan.
Sperber, Dan & Wilson, Deirdre (1995). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Blackwell.
Avoiding miscommunication: the potential benefit of cultural brokers over legal interpreters in Government service delivery to remote Indigenous communities
Brianna Lea Bell1, Sharon Macmillan2
1North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Australia; 2North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Australia
Many studies of legal communication have focused on situations like police and court interactions. However, other Government agencies have interactions with remote Indigenous Australians every day which involve:
communication about abstract concepts like entitlements, rules, responsibilities and processes; and
workers making important decisions based on complex interactions between people from very different language, cultural and personal backgrounds and worldviews.
These interactions frequently take place without the use of a qualified interpreter. As a result, professionals working in remote Aboriginal communities often observe miscommunication and its consequences. Some decisions made by Government workers suggest that a miscommunication has arisen as a result of one or both parties not seeing the full picture.
This study involved a literature review, and interviews with lawyers and social workers who have observed these miscommunications. It also analysed personal experiences of the authors (a lawyer, and a former interpreter and client service officer) working in remote communities in the Northern Territory. The study explored:
case studies where miscommunication has occurred, pinpointing the cause of the miscommunication, and considering whether the use of an interpreter alone would have remedied the miscommunication;
the concept of cultural brokers as a mediator between cultures who help “shape” the interaction (taking all aspects of cultural context into account), as opposed to interpreters who are tightly constrained by their Code of Ethics to direct interpretation; and
whether the employment of cultural brokers by Government agencies may be an effective method of avoiding miscommunications than meaning-based interpreting.