Reformulation and Conflict in the Witness Examination: The Case of Public Inquiries



This paper focuses on the development of witness examination as an argumentative dialogue between legal professionals and lay-people, considering in particular the case of Public Inquiries in Great Britain. This paper discusses the retention of traces of the adversarial system, typical of Common Law trials, in this type of inquisitorial proceedings, stressing on how counsels exploit some linguistic features to control both the form and the ideational content of the exchange as well as the power relationship with the witness. The analysis is carried out on a corpus of 15 days of witness examination transcripts (507,346 words) collected from three different Public Inquiries, namely Bloody Sunday Inquiry (Northern Ireland), Shipman Inquiry (England), and Cullen Inquiry (Scotland), to achieve a wider perspective on Common Law administrative justice. The study is based on a discourse and genre analytic approach for the macro-analysis of Public Inquiries in the context of courtroom discourse and of witness examination as a genre that develops within this discourse framework. Subsequently, a micro-analysis of the linguistic features used by counsel in questions to argumentatively shape the content and the form of the exchange is provided. We also take into consideration the role of metadiscourse (textual and interpersonal), repetitions and reformulations. Preliminary results show that these linguistic features provide valuable evidence for the hypothesis that the adversarial side of the argumentative dialogue between legal professionals and lay-people during the witness examination of Public Inquiries is retained.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Studi Linguistici sulla Testualità e la TraduzioneUniversità degli Studi di Modena e Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly

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