'Everybody does things differently!' Evidential consistency and the production of official police interview records

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


This paper considers a vitally important but generally undervalued aspect of investigative interviewing, namely the process of converting the spoken interview interaction into an institutionally approved, written evidential document. Formal interview records have significant legal standing in the criminal justice system. Around the world, various different approaches are taken to producing them, some significantly more reliable than others. The UK system of routinely audio-recording and transcribing all police-suspect interviews is often regarded as an example of best practice. However, this paper demonstrates that even such an apparently robust method of processing linguistic evidence is still problematic, and argues that contamination and bias are currently institutionally embedded in the system. This paper will present the key findings of my research into the production of police interview records in England & Wales, grounded in both academic linguistic theory and professional practice. Uniquely, it includes interviews with interview transcribers at a major English police force, offering a perspective which has hitherto received scant attention, despite the enormous practical impact of their work. Indeed, a key part of this research project is to give voice and recognition to this much under-valued group of workers, whose very existence is often entirely overlooked, yet whose work holds the key to fairer representation of interviewees’ voices in the criminal justice process. This paper will show how transcribers deal with aspects known from linguistic research to convey substantial meaning, but for which there are currently no standards regarding their representation in official transcripts. These include pauses, discourse markers, ‘no comment’ interviews, and transcription of video-recorded data. This is combined with linguistic analysis of authentic interviews and their official transcripts, and legal analysis of potential consequences in court of the representational choices which transcribers are tasked with making on a daily basis. The paper will conclude with practical recommendations as to how to improve evidential consistency in investigative interview data, based on incorporating long-established linguistic principles into everyday legal practice.
Period5 Sept 2019
Event titleGermanic Society for Forensic Linguistics Roundtable 2019
Event typeConference
LocationGraz, AustriaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational