Centre for Spoken Interaction in Legal Contexts



The primary research focus of the Centre for Spoken Interaction in Legal Contexts (SILC), led by Dr Kate Haworth, is on investigative interviews in police and other contexts (such as internal or civil investigations), but our remit encompasses other contexts where spoken interaction is central, such as courtroom interaction, emergency calls, and first response encounters. 

A key tenet of our approach is to work closely with practitioners and external organisations, in order to produce genuinely useful research informed by, and grounded in, professional practice.

Our People

Director and Research Staff
Dr Kate Haworth
Director of the Centre for Spoken Interaction in Legal Contexts 
Email: k.haworth@aston.ac.uk
Dr Nicci MacLeod
Senior Lecturer in Forensic Linguistics
Dr Chris Heffer, Cardiff University
Advisory Board member for SILC
Email: HefferC2@cardiff.ac.uk
Dr Zoë Adams
Research Fellow in SILC


For the record: transcribing police interviews

‘For the Record’ is a collaborative, mixed-method project being undertaken with an English police force, applying linguistic research to the production of written transcripts of interviews with suspects. This process is of importance because interview records 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. We are developing methods of reducing this routine, subjective interference with interview evidence.

The project involves 3 strands: (1) qualitative linguistic analysis of interview audio recordings and their official transcripts; (2) psycholinguistic experiments to test our hypothesis that different formats (spoken/written) and transcription choices have an effect on interpretation of the data; and (3) focus groups with transcribers and interviewers to ensure that the findings are firmly grounded in the practical realities of the professional context.

The intended outcome is to produce recommendations, guidelines and (ultimately) training to assist transcribers in producing written records which encapsulate more of the meaning conveyed by the original spoken interaction, and to enable consistency of interpretation of features such as punctuation and pauses for the reader (i.e. investigating officers, lawyers, courts), thus removing a major source of potentially subjective and inaccurate interpretation of criminal evidence.

Communicating and recording crime in action: a linguistic analysis

Dr Sarah AtkinsDr Felicity Deamer and Dr Emma Richardson are working with Joanna Traynor, Anglia Ruskin University to understand the issues with the reporting and categorisation of ‘crime in action’ (kidnap and extortion ongoing, in real time). As part of her PhD, Jo identified a reluctance by call handlers to categorise the report as a ‘crime in action’ due to the immediate and serious response this categorization occasions. In this project, we use a combination of linguistics methods to examine how the language used in emergency calls is transformed by call handlers into a written incident log, which despatch colleagues then either confirm, upgrade or downgrade categorizations. We are particularly interested in analysing patterns that result in miscommunication or miscategorisation of ‘crime in action’ incidents, with the potential to then contribute to research-based training. 

Interactional dynamics on mental health wards: using language to keep people safe

Dr Felicity Deamer is examining the critical and sensitive communicative interactions that take place between staff and patients on mental health wards. Using Conversation Analysis and Speech Act Theory, Felicity is evaluating the efficacy of body worn cameras,  with the aim of improving current training and practice in how to interact with the seriously mentally ill. It is hoped that this advanced understanding and training will reduce violence and aggression, as well as the necessity to use restraint. 

Initial reporting of domestic abuse (IRDA) during COVID-19

This conversation analytic study seeks to understand how reports of domestic abuse are made directly to the police and how call-takers respond and progress incoming reports in the UK during lockdown. Dr Emma Richardson, in collaboration with Professor Elizabeth Stokoe (Loughborough University), are examining a corpus of telephone calls between the public and the police during, and prior to, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vulnerability and the investigative interview

Dr Emma Richardson is examining real and simulated investigate interviews of vulnerable child and adult witnesses reporting rape and sexual assault. Using Conversation Analysis (CA), she is focussing on the constituent actions and the specifics of turn design, turn taking, action formation and sequence organisation as officers follow guidance and adhere to best practice in both settings.

Policing a mental health crisis: using language to keep someone safe

Dr Felicity Deamer is examining the complex communicative interactions that take place between police first-responders and people in crisis experiencing serious mental health difficulties.  By examining how these interactions unfold, Felicity aims to improve current training and practice in how to interact with the mentally unwell, including those who are hearing voices.  

The dynamics of political justification in activist trials

Recent Appeal Court rulings have placed sincerity and remorse at the centre of the courts’ protections of civic rights. Dr Graeme Hayes, Dr Steven Cammiss, Dr Felicity Deamer and Dr Sarah Atkins are carrying out a forensic ethnographic, and linguistic analysis of how these concepts are expressed in court.