Item Details

Reading the rights: a cautionary tale of comprehension and comprehensibility

Issue: Vol 7 No. 1 (2000)

Journal: International Journal of Speech Language and the Law

Subject Areas: Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/sll.2000.7.1.4


The UK police caution, delivered to suspects on arrest, has undergone a number of rewrites, most recently in 1995 as a reaction to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994. This paper analyses the role played by police officers when delivering the caution in influencing its comprehensibility, by means of an in situ study of 100 detained persons and 50 police officers. Findings indicate that there is considerable variability in the paraphrases provided by officers, and that some paraphrases may in fact result in the explanation of suspects’ rights being less comprehensible than the caution itself. The paper argues that asking linguistically untrained officers to provide paraphrases which are graded for both language and comprehensibility is unreasonable; finally, the use of standardized paraphrases – along similar lines to pattern jury instructions – is discussed.

Author: Janet Cotterill

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