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Risks and benefits of selective (re)presentation of interviewees' talk: some insights from discourse analysis

Nicci J. MacLeod (Research Associate at the Centre for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)

The British Journal of Forensic Practice

ISSN: 1463-6646

Article publication date: 18 May 2011

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the quality of evidence collected during interview. Current UK national guidance on the interviewing of victims and witnesses recommends a phased approach, allowing the interviewee to deliver their free report before any questioning takes place, and stipulating that during this free report the interviewee should not be interrupted. Interviewers, therefore, often find it necessary during questioning to reactivate parts of the interviewee's free report for further elaboration.

Design/methodology/approach

The first section of this paper draws on a collection of police interviews with women reporting rape, and discusses one method by which this is achieved – the indirect quotation of the interviewee by the interviewer – exploring the potential implications for the quality of evidence collected during this type of interview. The second section of the paper draws on the same data set and concerns itself with a particular method by which information provided by an interviewee has its meaning “fixed” by the interviewer.

Findings

It is found that “formulating” is a recurrent practice arising from the need to clarify elements of the account for the benefit of what is termed the “overhearing audience” – in this context, the police scribe, CPS, and potentially the Court. Since the means by which this “fixing” is achieved necessarily involves the foregrounding of elements of the account deemed to be particularly salient at the expense of other elements which may be entirely deleted, formulations are rarely entirely neutral. Their production, therefore, has the potential to exert undue interviewer influence over the negotiated “final version” of interviewees' accounts.

Originality/value

The paper highlights the fact that accurate re‐presentations of interviewees' accounts are a crucial tool in ensuring smooth progression of interviews and that re‐stated speech and formulation often have implications for the quality of evidence collected during significant witness interviews.

Keywords

Citation

MacLeod, N.J. (2011), "Risks and benefits of selective (re)presentation of interviewees' talk: some insights from discourse analysis", The British Journal of Forensic Practice, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 95-102. https://doi.org/10.1108/14636641111134332

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited