Applying linguistic research to the production of official written transcripts of investigative interview recordings, to improve evidential consistency and accuracy.
Dr Kate Haworth
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This is currently a collaboration with one English police force that wishes to remain anonymous.
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This research project applies linguistic theory and findings to the process of producing written transcripts of investigative interviews with suspects.
Standard procedure is that these interviews are audio recorded, then transcribed by clerks employed by the relevant police force. This process is of particular importance given that these are evidential documents, routinely presented in court as part of the prosecution case, yet the original spoken data are (necessarily) substantially altered through the process of being converted into written format (see Haworth, 2018). Yet once a transcript or record of taped interview (ROTI) has been produced, it is generally heavily relied upon rather than the audio recording, making its accuracy all the more important.
The research objective is to substantially increase the accuracy and consistency of investigative interview evidence, especially in terms of the representation of spoken language features.
The aim is to enable:
- transcribers to produce interview records that encapsulate more of the meaning conveyed by the original spoken interaction
- consistency of interpretation of features, such as punctuation and pauses for the reader (investigating officers, Crown Prosecution Service, courts, juries)
This will remove a major source of subjective and potentially inaccurate interpretation of criminal evidence.
The expected outcomes of this pilot project are to:
- determine whether there is a serious unrecognised problem within the criminal justice system with evidential consistency in investigative interview records
- collaboratively develop standard guidance for transcription, including transcription conventions which can easily be incorporated into practice
- assess the viability of developing a wider, national project leading to national standards and consistency
Since there is variation in practice across individual police forces, this will initially be a pilot project with one force to test the viability of the approach. This will hopefully be extended across the England & Wales jurisdiction in a follow-on project.
The research design involves three strands, in order to encapsulate the process from multiple angles and methodological approaches.
- Qualitative linguistic analysis of interview audio recordings and their official transcripts. There is a corpus of 29 investigative interviews and their corresponding official transcripts from the partner force. These are being analysed using a detailed, micro-analytic approach based predominantly in conversation analysis but drawing on other linguistic methodologies such as pragmatics.
- Psycholinguistic experiments, to test the hypothesis that different formats (spoken/written) and transcription choices have an effect on interpretation of the data. Experiment one has generated data from 60 participants. Using an online survey, participants were exposed to two conditions – hearing an audio recording (n=30) or viewing a written transcript (n=30), then asked a series of questions. In experiment two, three further conditions were run and the existing two conditions from experiment one were re-run. This generated data from 250 adult native speakers of English (50 per condition). Further iterations will be run in due course.
- Focus groups with transcribers and interviewers, to ensure that the findings are firmly grounded in the practical realities of the professional context. Six small-group focus groups were conducted, involving six transcribers and 13 police interviewers, amounting to 11 hours of recordings. An online questionnaire was also completed by all transcribers currently working in that role in force (n=9).
Results from all strands will be combined into one unified analysis, with each informing the other as the project progresses.
Interim reports or publications
Haworth, K. (2018) ‘Tapes, transcripts and trials: The routine contamination of police interview evidence’. International Journal of Evidence and Proof 22(4), 428—450. (Open access.)
Richardson, E., Haworth, K. and Deamer, F. (2022) ‘For the record: Questioning transcription practices in legal contexts’. Applied Linguistics. (Published online 8 Feb 2022.)
Deamer, F., Richardson, E., Basu, N., and Haworth, K. (in press) ‘For the record: Exploring variability in interpretations of police investigative interviews’. Language and Law: Linguagem e Direito.
This project is currently being run as a pilot with one force. The researcher is seeking other forces to participate in further iterations.