Dr Diana Eades - Linguistic challenges to/in/for police interviews with partial speakers of English - 11 August

Dr Diana Eades

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.  Dr Eades is a popular speaker to a diverse range of professional groups interested in intercultural communication with Aboriginal people, and communication practices within the legal process.  She has provided expert evidence in courts and tribunals in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory (for example in the cases of Western Australia v Gibson 2014, and Wotton v State of Queensland 2015). Her work is cited as the authority on Aboriginal English in the legal system in government reports, judicial decisions and legal publications. Dr Eades is also co-convenor of the Communication of Rights Group. In November 2015 the Communication of Rights Group release Guidelines for Communicating Rights to Non-Native Speakers of English in Australia, England and Wales and the USA


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

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. 

*This paper was also presented in the UNE Linguistics Seminar Series in March 2016.