Towards a Critical Forensic Linguistics
In the past twenty years linguists and phoneticians have been ever more frequently invited to act as expert witnesses in court cases, when language has been part of the evidence. Usually, their evidence is 'legal system neutral' - for instance when they express an opinion on the likelihood that the voice recorded committing a crime, or the person who texted a suspect message or authored a piece of hate mail, is indeed the accused.  However, at times linguists intervene and work critically to change linguistic aspects of the legal system to make is fairer and/or safer.

In this paper I will give examples from five areas where intervention is needed or is already occurring:
a) One of the basic rights of anyone accused of a crime is to have access to accurate records of the evidence collected against them.  In Britain, in response to a series of miscarriages of justice where handwritten police records of interviews were shown to have been falsified, all interviews with suspects and court proceedings are now standardly tape-recorded, so that there is an independent record for future reference. In many countries this is still not true - see Gibbons (2001) for an example from Chile of how an official written summary can be inaccurate but unchallengeable.
b) There are many problems at the legal/lay interface, where texts written to be legally accurate are anything but transparent and so do not communicate well with a lay audience. A clear example of this are pattern jury instructions. Linguists have drawn attention to the worst of these definitions - see Dumas 2002 - and in California have been involved in redrafting, Tiersma (200&).
c) There is a major need to distinguish genuine asylum seekers from economic refugees but some governments are placing too much faith in language tests.  Linguists are campaigning against the use of current tests and are working to design more reliable tests and better trained testers. Eades (2002).
d) The role of interpreters in the legal system is still under negotiation.  Many legal professionals strongly dislike using interpreters because it, apparently unnecessarily, slows down the process, and some judges even feel competent to assess the linguistic competence of witnesses, Eades (1995).  Linguists are working in two areas: firstly, to inform legal professionals and to secure the basic right of all those involved in the legal process to an interpreter and secondly to help professionals work more successfully with interpreters.
e) Finally, linguists are setting out to control the quality of the evidence produced by those working as forensic experts. This is being done in the UK firstly, by signing up with the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners, which will mean that in the longer term only those accredited will be able to give evidence and secondly, by at the same time running professionalising Masters courses in forensic linguistics and phonetics.
Dumas B 2002 'Reasonable doubt about reasonable doubt: assessing jury instruction adequacy in a capital case', in J Cotterill (ed.), Language in the Legal Process, London: Palgrave, 246-259.
Eades D 1995 Language in Evidence: Linguistic and Legal Perspectives in Multicultural Australia, Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press.
Eades D 2005 'Applied linguistics and language analysis in asylum seeker cases' Applied Linguistics, 26, 4, 503-26.
Gibbons J 1996 'Distortions of the police interview process revealed by video-tape', Forensic Linguistics: the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 3ii, 289-98,
Gibbons, J 2001 'Legal transformation in Spanish: an 'audiencia' in Chile, Forensic Linguistics: the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 8, ii, 24-43
Tiersma P 200