Language attitudes and their impact in criminal justice proceedings

  • Burridge, Kathryn (Primary Chief Investigator (PCI))
  • Eades, Diana (Chief Investigator (CI))
  • Heydon, Georgina (Chief Investigator (CI))
  • Severin, Allie (Chief Investigator (CI))

Project: Research

Project Details

Project Description

Recent criminal cases of wrongful conviction, such as that of Gene Gibson in WA, have demonstrated the risk to justice posed by ignorance about linguistics and a failure to obtain linguistic expert testimony in cases that pivot on an issue of language systems or use. The language attitudes of legal professionals such as barristers and judges have the potential to significantly impact people’s experience of the Australian justice system. In particular, legal professionals act as gatekeepers for expert linguistic testimony within the courtroom, where language risks being approached as a matter of ‘common knowledge’ and thus exempt from expert testimony. This testimony has the potential to significantly alter the outcome of a trial and thus its (in)admission has serious consequences.

As demonstrated by the presentations at the 2016 ALS workshop (“How to ensure language and speech evidence is used appropriately in court”), we urgently need to raise awareness of our expertise; we need better education of judges and lawyers about language and speech — above all we need to ensure that well-researched principles of linguistics are put before popular misconceptions about how people speak (or should speak).

We will examine court decisions within Australia and identify instances where linguistic questions have arisen as part of the examination of evidence and ascertain how, if at all, those questions were dealt with by legal professionals involved in the case. An examination of this kind should allow us to identify which linguistic issues appear to be repeatedly problematic within Australian courtrooms.
Short titleLanguage attitudes
Effective start/end date29/03/1829/03/19