Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence launch

The Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence was officially launched  over zoom on Friday, 30 October 2020 by Professor Russell Goulbourne, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. Speeches were presented by The Honourable Chris Kourakis, Chief Justice of South Australia and Chair of the Judicial Commission on Cultural Diversity; Professor Diana Eades, of the University of New England; and Professor Sandra Hale, of the University of New South Wales.

Edited video of the launch of the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence.

To see subtitles, click ‘CC’ (lower right corner when the video is playing).


Please note: The video has been very heavily edited, so please do not quote from this text without express permission.

Professor Lesley Stirling: The School is very excited, really delighted to host the Hub on behalf of The Faculty of Arts at The University of Melbourne. And we’re particularly grateful to Professor Russell Goulbourne, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts for his support. So I’m now going to ask Professor Goulbourne to formally launch the Hub.

Professor Russell Goulbourne: Thank you, Lesley. Colleagues, distinguished guests, friends. As Dean of the Faculty of Arts, I’m delighted to play my part today in helping to launch this Hub. It’s a real pleasure to have conspired on this with Professor Lesley Stirling as Head of The School of Languages and Linguistics. And it’s an honour for me today to acknowledge and pay tribute to the work of Professor Helen Fraser and Dr Debbie Loakes, who are the key figures involved in this Hub and in really getting this work launched for us as a Faculty. We are really fortunate to have you, Helen and Debbie, within our Faculty. We’re really fortunate to have this Hub within the Faculty. So it really is a great honour and pleasure for me to launch.

That aim of creating better fairer societies is part of our strap line, part of our vision as a Faculty, how we’ve defined our purpose as a Faculty.

So in conclusion then this Hub – and why I’m so pleased to be supporting it and launching it today – this Hub has a very personal resonance, but it also reminds me what this Faculty is all about. It reminds me why I’m in this role. I wish the Hub every success.

Professor Lesley Stirling: Thank you so much, Russell, for that wonderful launch. We’re going to give Helen a chance to speak in a minute, but we have three other speakers who we would like to invite to say some words now, and to begin, I would like to please call on the Honourable Chris Kourakis, who I mentioned earlier, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia and Chair of the Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity. Chief Justice Kourakis.

Chief Justice Kourakis: Thank you, Lesley. Can I start by congratulating you and Helen and everybody involved in the Call to Action for the work that you have done and now culminating in the establishment of this Research Hub.

The Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity has as its members judges from across the country and has other lay members.

It reports directly to the Council of Australian Chief Justices and by reason of that has some authority and what it puts out is well-regarded. At our meeting on Wednesday the Council welcomed the establishment of the Research Hub and has committed to help it initially at least by facilitating the collection of data by making inquiries of judges across the country about trials in which translated covert recordings have been used.

Can I just say something personally about why I think this is important, which really takes up from the message of the Dean and the words of the Dean. The introduction of science into all areas of social life is extremely important and for the reasons the Dean mentioned very important in the criminal justice system.

What you have done as linguists has a long history in other areas of forensic science. Most forensic science started its life as an adjunct to police departments and over decades as the errors produced by not having rigorous, solidly based science involved, the miscarriages which resulted from that have led to a shift in forensic science out of police departments into independent agencies.

It’s applied to things like the examination of hair, paint, strands of rope and glass fragments, the list just goes on and on. But whilst police initially started that sort of forensic science, it moved out to people properly trained in the sciences. And I’m sure the same will come of this introduction of science into the criminal justice system.

So this is really important work. It’s good work. Again, I congratulate you on the establishment of this Research Hub.

Professor Lesley Stirling: Thank you very much Chief Justice. It’s great to hear from you, and it’s fantastic to hear of the support of the Council from your meeting on Wednesday. I’d like to now call on Professor Diana Eades, who many of you will know for her distinguished career in Language and the Law.

Professor Eades is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Adjunct Professor at the University of New England. She’s held numerous roles in the International Association of Forensic Linguists, including that of President. So Diana, could I now call on you please to say a few words?

Professor Diana Eades: Yes. Thank you very much, Lesley. And thank you for inviting me to do this.

So the Honourable Chief Justice, Professor Goulbourne as well, and Lesley, Professor Stirling and Professor Helen Fraser, and all the other guests here today. It’s both an honour and a joy to be invited to speak briefly at this launch of the Research Hub.

As we know, it’s a national hub established to coordinate research involving linguistics, law and law enforcement. This event is quite an event because it marks a turning point in Australia for the linguistic study of language in the legal process and the specific subfield of language and speech used as evidence in courts and tribunals.

We’re not the first country to have a forensic linguistics centre at a university, but I’m pretty sure that this is the first place in the world where such a centre has been established from a process in which a significant role was played by all of the linguistic associations in the country joining to draw attention to a serious problem in how language and speech evidence is used in the courts.

And importantly, we’re also the first country where any issue concerning language evidence in the courts is being responded to through a process, and now a structure, that brings together forensic linguistics scholars and practitioners with high-level support from the judiciary. And I can’t underestimate how important and fantastic that is.

As a linguist who’s given evidence in courts and tribunals over more than 30 years, I’m only too well aware of the limited role for linguistics without collaboration from the law. The importance of support and encouragement from Chief Justice Kourakis and the Judicial Council he chairs cannot be underestimated.

I also want to say that Professor Lesley Stirling has done a great deal in her recent role as the then President of the Australian Linguistic Society, and in her current role as Head of Languages and Linguistics at The University of Melbourne together with her colleague, the Dean, and with Debbie Loakes as well as Helen to make this Hub happen.

So let me end by raising my glass. Raise your glasses, folks. To Professor Fraser, to Chief Justice Kourakis and to Professor Stirling.

Professor Lesley Stirling: Thank you, Diana for those wonderful words and thanks for the toast, which of course we should have. I’m going to now ask our final speaker, Professor Sandra Hale, Professor of Interpreting and Translation at The University of New South Wales to say a few words.

Professor Sandra Hale: Thanks. Thanks everyone. It’s nice to see everyone’s faces. It’s been it’s a great honour to have been asked to say a few words at the launch of this very important initiative. I was really delighted to hear about the Hub when I first heard of it. And I know as others have said how long Helen has been working towards this.

And I vividly remember about 10 years ago when Helen came to my office to discuss a strategy. She was exasperated as to, you know, what to do. And she asked me to say a few words about my background, because we talked about the strategies that I used and how, you know, to some degree I had had a bit of success.

The alliance between linguistics, lawyers and law enforcement agents is one that I’ve been working towards for over 30 years. First as a young interpreter in the legal setting, and then as an educator, as a researcher and an advocate for equality before the law.

I really welcome this new Research Hub and I very much rejoice in its inception and in its potential.

So now I’d like to congratulate and commend Helen, as others have done, for her expertise, for her hard work for her persistence, and for everything that she’s done in order to achieve this excellent milestone. Thank you.