Discursive manifestations of the statutory child-adult divide in police interviews with suspects aged 17 and 18

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study investigates how the statutory divide between children and adults is manifested in the language of police interviews with 17- and 18-year-old suspects. In England and Wales,persons up to and including age 17 are classed as children and therefore considered by default vulnerable. In the context of the legal process, this vulnerability means that suspects are entitled to a number of special measures, the most prominent of which is the mandatory presence of an appropriate adult (parent/guardian or social worker/volunteer) during the police interview. The day a person turns 18 and thus acquires the status of an adult, they are no longer eligible for additional support and are expected to navigate the legal system on their own. Crucially, the change form child to adult happens overnight.Given this statutory divide and the associated special measures for vulnerable interviewees,this study examines how the language of police investigative interviews is affected. The data consist of 19 audio-recorded interviews from two police forces in England, that is, ten interviews with 17-year-old suspects and nine interviews with 18-year-old suspects. Drawing upon a multi-method approach combining tools from Conversation Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis, the data are analysed inductively.The findings reveal both interviewers and suspects discursively orienting to the age divide and associated ideological assumptions by means of marked lexical choices, terms of address, and references. Examinations of the cautioning exchange show a tendency for interviewers engaging in verbal behaviour consistent with tick-box consent (Rock 2016).Finally, this study presents the first qualitative linguistic enquiry into verbal contributions by appropriate adults in interviews with juveniles. It is revealed that whilst their role is overall passive, particularly familial appropriate adults are called upon by suspects to provide practical information, and as a means of corroborating their statements in an attempt to gain credence.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKate Haworth (Supervisor) & Krzysztof Kredens (Supervisor)


  • adolescent
  • police caution
  • appropriate adult
  • conversation analysis
  • critical discourse analysis

Cite this