Power, Politics, Language and the Law

Courtroom Narrative and Legal Meanings Through the Ages

 

The Institute of Humanities Winter Symposium, organised by two of our research groups: English Language & Linguistics; Power and Politics in Language and Literature.

12 December 2018, 2-6pm, Lipman 332

There are still places left for a fascinating afternoon where leading researchers on language and the law will explore courtroom language from the 17th century to the present day.

If you’d like to come, please email Nicci MacLeod to book your place:

nicci.macleod@northumbria.ac.uk

Here is a summary:

Courtroom Narrative and Legal Meanings Through the Ages

This half-day symposium, bringing together scholars from both Law and Linguistics, seeks to elucidate the nature of courtroom language as represented in proceedings from the 17th century through to the present day. A central concern for forensic linguists and researchers of public discourse, courtroom interactions such as those explored by our speakers have also proved to be an object of interest for legal scholars, literature scholars and historians alike. With reference to real-life cases the speakers will illustrate the varied ways in which language both embodies the institutional authority of the law, and maps neatly on to particular ideologies which permeate that institution and, as a result, our lives.

And here are the abstracts:

Advocacy, history, and story in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913.

Dr Alison Johnson, University of Leeds

This paper examines advocacy through the records of criminal trials left to us in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913 (POB), looking at their value not simply as voices of the past, but just as much of the present, as the traditions of advocacy lie in their roots, and the voices of the advocate are infused by legal practices that are socially and historically constituted. The nearly 200,000 trials in this online resource are too extensive and diverse to tackle as a whole, so, using the methodology that I have developed of creating small sub-corpora in relevant collections (e.g. rape trials of the 18thcentury; a single lawyer’s trials from the 19thcentury; 19thcentury trials with an insanity defence), I illustrate, through vignettes from a range of trials and periods, how distinct advocacies produce different effects: prosecution advocacythat speaks on behalf of the complainant, creative defence advocacythat transforms the prosecution story into one that advantages the defence, the little-discussedjudicial advocacythat sees the judge move from trial manager to co-advocate (with one side), and the risky self-advocacythat sees ordinary people attempting to combine the roles of lawyer and witness. I argue that the complexity of the advocate’s voice is produced through competing forces of dominance and subtlety, explicitness and ambiguity, protection and attack, eloquence and understatement, and restraint and audaciousness; this makes the POBan important source, resource, and reflection of legal voices in society, not only in the 18th and 19th century, but also today.

 . . . 

“As the sun rose…:” Narrative construction in the adversarial courtroom

Dr Kirsty Blewitt, Newcastle University

This research explores how narratives are constructed in the adversarial courtroom system. Data are from two US-based, first degree murder trials concerning the same homicide, where both defendants (who were then husband and wife) were tried separately. Narrative construction referred to the same basic ‘facts’, but differed in their interpretation. Despite this common themes such as time, space, location, responsibility and agency were present in the four versions presented. This study uses a three level conceptualisation of trial interactions, which are; the agenda; macro-level narrative(s); and micro-level interactions. This allows for a contextualised and holistic approach to narrative construction within the trials, as these three elements are seen as being dynamic and reflexive. Narratives are explored drawing on Ricoeur’s (1980) concepts of time and narrative, building on previous conceptualisations of narrative in court (Cotterill, 2003; Heffer, 2005; 2010). Power is viewed through Foucault’s (1982) theory of power relations, and Hutchby’s (1999) discussion of asymmetry in micro-analysis.

 . . .

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’Law through the looking-glass?

Dr Natalie Wortley, Northumbria University

This paper will explore some of the ways in which appeal courts have interpreted key words and phrases in the context of a variety of criminal offences and defences. It will highlight cases in which the courts have assumed a shared understanding of particular words and will consider the potential consequences of such interpretations and assumptions for lawyers, defendants and witnesses/victims. These themes will be developed in the context of cases involving expert witnesses, particularly psychiatrists, where the language of the law may be “out of step with modern psychiatric thinking” (Law Commission, Insanity and Automatism: A Discussion Paper,July 2013).  Measures that are available to assist those who are vulnerable to participate effectively in the criminal process will also be discussed, particularly the adaptation of questioning techniques with a view to ensuring that a witness/defendant is able to give their best evidence.

When and where:

12 December 2018, 2-6pm, Lipman 332

If you’d like to come, please email Nicci MacLeod to book your place:

nicci.macleod@northumbria.ac.uk

 

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