The evidential role of police-suspect interviews: linguistic theory and current practice

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This paper presented the findings of a linguistic analysis of police-suspect interviews in England & Wales, focusing on its use as evidence. It addressed two main aspects:
(1) It examined the format changes undergone by interview data as they pass through the judicial process from interview room to courtroom. It applied linguistic research on the differences between spoken and written language, and the difficulties of converting one to the other, to current practice in transcribing and presenting interview data as evidence. This highlights serious problems of evidential preservation and consistency.
(2) It presented the findings of a detailed linguistic analysis of interview discourse. Using theories regarding audience orientation, narrative, and the sociolinguistic construction of identity, it showed how the interview’s later role as evidence – and hence its future audiences, especially in court – directly influence behaviour in the interview room, with perhaps surprising consequences for the quality and integrity of the resulting evidence.
Overall this application of linguistic theory to current practice reveals several problems with the use of interviews as evidence, yet also shows how these can be improved or even eradicated by increasing awareness among practitioners of the linguistic factors involved.
Period15 Apr 2009
Event titleInternational Investigative Interviewing Research Group Annual Conference 2009, Teesside University
Event typeConference
LocationMiddlesbrough, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational