Linguistic challenges to/in/for police interviews with partial speakers of English

presented by Adj Prof Diana Eades, Discipline of Linguistics, University of New England, Armidale

12 – 1 pm, Thursday 24th March 2016

Oorala Lecture Theatre (Bldg E22), UNE


The case of a young Aboriginal man from the most remote community in Australia highlights what is involved for people who speak a traditional language as their first and main language to understand and invoke their rights in a police interview (Western Australia v Gibson WASC 2014).

The case also demonstrates how the law needs to pay attention to:

  • different types of English proficiency,
  • the provision of competent interpreting assistance,
  • problems which result from expecting a suspect’s interview friend to provide support to the suspect while "helping" the police to explain interview rights, and
  • cultural and linguistic factors which impact the interpretation of monosyllabic answers in such an interview situation.

Expert evidence given by four linguists in the pre-trial hearing in Gibson’s case was central to the defence challenge to the admissibility of the police interviews. This linguistic evidence was embraced by the judge in his reasons for ruling the interviews as inadmissible.

The talk will conclude with an outline of specific and general developments since this case which are addressing linguistic challenges for the police in their interviews with suspects who are partial speakers of English.


Dr Diana Eades specialises in critical sociolinguistics, language in the legal process, and intercultural communication, particularly involving Australian Aboriginal people who speak varieties of English. She has more than 25 years’ experience in research, teaching and practical applications of her scholarly work.