54 Pages


This chapter analyzes discourse strategies in the examination and crossexamination of witnesses in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, highlighting the rigid institutional constraints within which the verbal interaction takes place. The analysis aims to show that many of the exchanges reflect an asymmetrical power relation, in which certain actors lay claim to more extensive rights to frame the discourse and to lead the narrative in a certain direction. In particular, carefully rehearsed routines are deployed, enabling the protagonists not simply to establish a sequence of events on which the participants can agree, but crucially to undermine the credibility of key witnesses. The sense of drama is heightened by means of a careful juxtaposition of highly formalized ritual language with more colloquial tones for establishing a rapport with the secondary addressee, the jury, who from a conversation analysis (CA) perspective are ‘nonspeaking overhearers’ (Drew 1992: 475), and the tertiary addressee, the judge and the other actors in the court, at the expense of the primary addressee, the witness. It is argued that not only are the discursive rights of the members of the jury during and after the proceedings severely constrained, as outlined in Section 3 below, but also those of the witnesses. An account is given of courtroom exchanges in which artfully

staged coups de théâtre are met with countermoves by actors fighting to salvage their credibility in a confrontational encounter, providing evidence for the view that crucial moments in the cross-examination of witnesses display a degree of genre mixing between legal proceedings and theatrical performances.