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Session Overview
PP-We-pm GB2 - 1: Parallel papers Wednesday afternoon
Wednesday, 03/Jul/2019:
4:00pm - 5:00pm

Session Chair: Diana Eades
Location: Green Brain Conference Room 2
Conference room 16.07.07

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Differences in linguistic and legal constructions of reliability: why it matters and why the law should listen to linguistics

Ben Grimes

Charles Darwin University, Australia

To what extent can linguistics tell us if a speaker means what we think they mean? I will explore this question in the context of the legal framework for deciding whether a confession should be admitted into evidence and will illustrate how a linguistic approach for assessing communication is superior to legal frameworks.

Historically, legal argument about confessions was primarily focused on whether the confession was coerced by force or induced by trickery, and was assessed in relation to ‘voluntariness’. The courts subsequently expanded the right to include the requirement that the suspect understand that they had this right.

More recently, through the Evidence (National Uniform Legislation) Act, the notion of voluntariness was replaced with ‘reliability’. This is a positive step, particularly when viewed from a linguistic perspective. However, recent cases illustrate how judges have failed to embrace the full potential of the concept of reliability, and have taken backward steps by conflating the idea of ‘reliability’ with ‘truthfulness’.

Using these cases, I will articulate specific changes that are needed to the legal construction of reliability. This will be done with particular reference to the interactional construction of meaning, pragmatic and sociolinguistic aspects of communication and discourse level issues such as cultural schemas and non-linear narrative, which are currently beyond the scope of judicial consideration.

If the law were to embrace a linguistic concept of reliability, it would realign the right to silence with its original purpose; to prevent judges and juries from considering evidence that is demonstrably unreliable.


Michael Cooke


Symposium Discussion

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