Lots of new publications

header of blog page at Research Hub for Language in Forensic EvidenceThe Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence has been publishing up a storm recently. Check some of the new work below, aimed at a variety of different audiences. One of the articles discusses a new experiment using the audio you may have marvelled about on the front page of this website.

Fraser, H. (2021a). How misconceptions about transcription affect the criminal justice system. Tiro: The Journal of Professional Reporting and Transcription, (3).

In this article, I introduce a form of transcription that may be unfamiliar to professional transcribers: transcription of forensic audio. Forensic audio is spoken language recorded secretly (typically by police) and used as evidence in a criminal trial. The need for secrecy means the recording is often very indistinct, to the extent that professional verbatim reporters struggle to transcribe the content. It might be expected that specialist transcribers with advanced training would do the work. This is far from true. In many jurisdictions, transcripts of indistinct forensic audio are created by police investigating the case. Since police lack relevant expertise, their transcripts are not always reliable. This creates a clear threat to justice. In Australia, the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence aims to develop better ways of transcribing indistinct forensic audio. To help explain our approach, it is useful to start from the more familiar situation of verbatim transcription. We can then consider forensic transcription by contrast.

Fraser, H., & Kinoshita, Y. (2021). Injustice arising from the unnoticed power of priming: How lawyers and even judges can be misled by unreliable transcripts of indistinct forensic audio. Criminal Law Journal, 45(3), 142–152.

Current law allows police transcripts to assist juries in understanding the content of indistinct forensic audio – with a number of legal safeguards intended to mitigate any risk that an inaccurate transcript might mislead the jury. The problem is that the safeguards rely on lawyers and judges gaining a sense of personal confidence that they hear words suggested by the transcript. The present article describes a new experiment showing that personal confidence is a poor indicator of perceptual accuracy, since listeners can be easily and unwittingly “primed” to hear words suggested by an inaccurate transcript. This confirms previous research suggesting current safeguards are inadequate, adds new findings regarding the effect of an alternative suggestion, and supports the need for an evidence-based process ensuring all indistinct forensic audio used in court is accompanied by a reliable transcript. It also indicates there is an urgent need to change legal procedures for admission of transcripts of indistinct forensic audio used as evidence in criminal trials.

Fraser, H., & Loakes, D. (2020). Acoustic injustice: The experience of listening to indistinct covert recordings presented as evidence in court. Law Text Culture, 24, 405–429.

Audio recorded by hidden listening devices can provide powerful evidence in criminal trials. Unfortunately these covert recordings are often indistinct, to the extent the court needs a transcript to understand the content. Australian law allows police to provide transcripts as ‘ad hoc experts’. Legal procedures incorporate safeguards intended to ensure the transcripts are not misleading. The problem is that these safeguards have been shown to be ineffective, with multiple examples of inaccurate transcripts being provided to ‘assist’ the jury in determining what is said and who is saying it. The present paper explains the problem, provides an accessible overview of the nature of speech and how speech perception works, and outlines the solution proposed by the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence to the ‘acoustic injustice’ embodied in current legal procedures.

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