The Linguist

The Linguist 55,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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16 The Linguist Vol/55 No/3 2016 FEATURES Krzysztof Kredens looks at an important new briefing on forensic linguistics, and asks why legal translating, interpreting and arbitration are omitted I n 2010, just over a week after they got married, Jamie Starbuck murdered his wife, buried the burnt remains of her body and left the UK to travel the world with her savings. Having secured access to her email account, he sent messages to her family and friends pretending to be her throughout his two-year trip. Debbie's friends eventually got suspicious and Jamie was arrested upon returning to the UK. Key in bringing him to justice was a forensic linguistics comparison of the emails he had sent posing as Debbie with those sent from his own account. As more and more individuals communicate via electronic means, offering perceived anonymity, the demand for forensic linguistic input in law enforcement has never been greater. Forensic linguists have kept up, working on new analytical tools and perfecting older ones, conducting empirically based research, and raising awareness among both the law enforcement community and the general public. As a result, in the UK, the use of language-based evidence in police investigations and legal proceedings is no longer an oddity. As a forensic linguist, I still have concerns about two aspects of the profession and its social presence: firstly, the fact that the police and defence lawyers seem to have only a limited understanding of the scope of the discipline, requesting our help mostly in cases requiring either some form of authorship analysis or the interpretation of legally disputed meanings; and secondly, the lack of legally binding regulatory measures, meaning that pretty much anyone claiming expertise can act as an expert witness. It was, therefore, with considerable anticipation that I awaited the publication by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) of a briefing note on forensic linguistics (for which my colleagues at the Centre for Forensic Linguistics and I had been interviewed). 1 POST essentially works as Parliament's in-house science communication unit, helping MPs and peers to make informed legislation- related decisions. The briefing could be an important step in both formally consolidating the profile of forensic linguistics and setting in motion the process of statutory regulation. Describing the field A few classification frameworks have been proposed for forensic language analysis but the briefing note uses arguably the 'safest' distinction of forensic linguistics and forensic phonetics as its structural reference point. It presents the most common areas of practice in both disciplines, i.e. sociolinguistic profiling, comparative authorship analysis and meaning analysis, and cites transcription, voice parades, authentication of recordings and resolution of disputed utterances as procedures more specifically within the forensic phonetic remit. The authors also mention speech-based deception detection as a field of interest but, importantly, show an awareness of its controversial nature in the forensic speech science community. A significant proportion of the brief is devoted to the field of language analysis for the determination of origin (LADO), where the procedures used to test asylum seekers' claimed origin involve analyses at various levels of linguistic structure (e.g. phonetic, lexical, syntactic). The authors report on a number of controversies around the reliability of LADO as a diagnostic tool. If the brief does not exactly "examine the scientific validity of procedures and their applications", as stated in the introduction (which it cannot achieve given its format and target audience), it certainly does a good job of presenting an appropriately cautious outline of both the investigative and evidential potential of forensic language analysis. The brief is similarly factual about the investigative and evidential status of the field, including issues around regulation. The closest forensic linguistics came to an accreditation system was in 2008, when the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners produced a set of criteria following a consultation process in the UK's forensic linguistic and phonetic communities. Unfortunately, due to funding cuts, the Council was disbanded and the system was never implemented. As the brief explains, there is some general guidance regarding expert witnesses and expert evidence from the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service, but no specific mention of, say, best practice in forensic linguistics. Judges, in particular, are left to their own devices in making decisions about experts' credibility and the scientific validity of their analyses and conclusions. A notable omission A notable omission in the brief is the field of legal translation and interpreting. Numerous reports suggest that access to justice for people who don't speak English is often seriously compromised in the UK. Forensic linguists are interested in identifying and addressing the relevant linguistic and procedural processes responsible for this regrettable state of affairs. Revealing forensics

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