Conference Agenda

Plenary 5: Dr Helen Fraser
Thursday, 04/Jul/2019:
2:30pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Peter Gray
Location: Green Brain Conference Rooms 1 and 2
Storey Hall, level 7


Forensic Transcription and Translation: Why and how Australian linguists are calling for reform of legal procedures

Helen Fraser

Covert recordings, obtained via telephone intercept or hidden listening device, play a crucial role in modern criminal investigations. Many of these recordings go on to be used as evidence in trials. It is the latter that have created concerns among Australian linguists.

Due to the way they are obtained, covert recordings are often of extremely poor quality, to the point they are unintelligible without the assistance of a transcript. The problem is that current law allows the transcripts used to assist the court to be provided by police investigating the case. Transcription of poor quality audio is a highly specialised task, in which police have no expertise. As a result, their transcripts are often inaccurate or misleading. The law includes measures intended to ensure juries are not adversely affected by unreliable transcripts; however, a good deal of research has demonstrated that these measures are insufficient. Similarly, when covert recordings include material in foreign languages, current legal procedures are insufficient to ensure the court is not misled by unreliable translations. Numerous cases are known of actual or potential injustice arising from reliance on indistinct covert recordings as evidence in court.

Dr Fraser’s presentation will provide a brief overview of the problems, then discuss the solution being recommended by Australian linguists, and the avenues by which we are seeking to bring about its implementation. For further background, please visit