Forensic translation and transcription

When:3 Oct 2017, 3pm - 4pm
Venue:Civil Engineering 109 (map ref H10)
Who:Helen Fraser (Director: Forensic Phonetics Australia)
Helen Fraser

Interpreting & Translation Seminar


Covert (secret) recordings are now obtained by police for almost every major crime, by 'bugging' telephones, homes or cars. Some of these recordings are played in court during the trial. They can provide powerful evidence, allowing the jury to hear speakers giving information they would not say openly.

The problem is that many recordings are of very poor quality. This means even English conversation can be difficult for the court to understand. In addition, many recordings include conversation in languages other than English.

Since 1987, it has become standard practice to allow a transcript to assist the jury in understanding the content of covert recordings. The transcript includes:

  • the police version of what words are spoken in indistinct passages of English,
  • translations of passages in other languages,
  • identification of which speakers are talking at particular times, and
  • other relevant information

The question is: How can we be sure the transcript is accurate? This presentation raises a number of issues related to this question. It you are involved at any level in transcription or translation of covert recordings, your input and discussion will be welcome.

About Helen Fraser

Dr Helen Fraser studied linguistics, specialising in phonetics, at Macquarie University and the University of Edinburgh. She then taught at the University of New England for many years. Since 2008 she has worked as an independent researcher and consultant, focusing mainly in forensic transcription and on spoken communication between native and non-native speakers of English. Please visit

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