Forensic Speech Science Committee (FSSC)

Forensic Speech Science is the application of speech science to legal contexts. For example, it can:

  •  contribute useful information to criminal investigations;
  • assist in the improvement of legal processes, by informing legal practitioners and law enforcement agencies of scientifically appropriate handling of speech evidence;
  • assist courts of law in making factually correct decisions by revealing the information that speech evidence contains.

It is important to note that most of us in the hearing community tend to take speech communication for granted. After all, we speak to – and understand – each other daily. We recognise our friends’ voices. So, one may ask why we need expert knowledge in this area, rather than just our ‘common sense.’

The answer is simple. Human speech and our perception of it are far more complex processes than many of us realise. Many external factors affect how we speak and hear: noise, social settings, speech style, emotion, prejudice, contextual knowledge and familiarity with a particular variety of language. All can mislead us — to hear things that are not said, or to misidentify the owner of a voice. Speech evidence needs to be handled in a scientific and transparent way, founded on specialist knowledge, such as linguistics, signal processing, and statistics.

The ASSTA Forensic Speech Science Committee promotes scientific research and communication, and cross-disciplinary collaboration to further development this field. Subfields of forensic speech science research include:

  • forensic voice comparison;
  • forensic transcription;
  • speaker profiling;
  • assessing the contents of disputed speech recordings;
  • language assessment in asylum procedures;
  • assessing whether audio evidence has been tampered with.

Prof Helen Fraser (Chair)

Professor Helen Fraser is Director of the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence at the University of Melbourne, where she leads research aiming to improve the handling of indistinct covert recordings used as evidence in criminal trials.

Prof Fraser’s background is in linguistics, specialising in phonetics, especially its cognitive branches (those relating to speech perception, pronunciation and transcription). She holds a BA (Hons) from Macquarie University (1983) and a PhD from the University of Edinburgh (1989), and taught phonetics and related disciplines at the University of New England, Armidale, from 1990-2008.

Prof Fraser has been involved in forensic case work since 1993, and has consulted for over 100 cases. She has also published extensively, especially on forensic transcription – the science and practice of producing reliable transcripts to assist the jury in determining the content of indistinct forensic recordings (audio used as evidence in court).

Dr Yuko Kinoshita (Deputy Chair)

Dr Kinoshita is a researcher in linguistics, and a lecturer in Japanese and linguistics at The Australian National University. Her main research interest is in forensic phonetics, focussed on linguistically-informed forensic voice comparison under likelihood-based evaluation frameworks. She recently extended her interest area to speech perception and its impact on legal processes, in collaboration with Professor Helen Fraser.

In addition to her research practice, Yuko has been actively engaging in forensic linguistics education. She teaches a large introductory forensic linguistics course at ANU, where she guides her students to discover the complexity of language and communication, their interaction with justice systems, and effects on civil society.

She also regularly provides several law enforcement agencies with advice and consultancy services in forensic voice comparison.

A/Prof Shunichi Ishihara

A/Prof Shunichi Ishihara is a co-director of the Speech and Language Lab at the Australian National University, and leader of the Forensic Stream of the lab. He is also the convenor of the Forensic Linguistic Program. He has an M.A. and Ph.D in Acoustic Phonetics from the Australian National University, and and M.Sc in Speech Science from Macquarie University. He has published many papers on forensic voice/text comparison with the likelihood ratio framework. He is the first person who applied the likelihood ratio framework to forensic authorship analysis. 

Prof Philip Rose 
Phil Rose is adjunct associate professor in Phonetics and Chinese linguistics at the Australian National University, is a member of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences, and has been British Academy Visiting Professor at the Joseph Bell Centre for Forensic Statistics and Legal Reasoning at the University of Edinburgh. He has a Ph.D in Chinese Phonetics from Cambridge, and an M.A. in Linguistics and first-class honours in German from the University of Manchester.

Prof. Rose is author of Forensic Speaker Identification, in the Taylor & Francis Forensic Science Series. He has also published widely on forensic speaker identification. Phil’s short bio is here. He is a member of the International Association for Forensic Phonetics & Acoustics, and former Member of Council of the International Phonetic Association. He has done research for almost 35 years on similarities and differences between individuals in their speech, and has been undertaking forensic voice comparison case-work in Chinese and Australian English for about twenty years.

Prof Michael Wagner 

Michael Wagner received his Diplomphysiker degree from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich with a thesis on the computer simulation of an elementary-particle spectrometer in 1973 and his PhD in computer science from the Australian National University with a thesis on the acoustic-phonetic analysis of speaker characteristics in 1979. He is Managing Director of the National Centre for Biometric Studies, Honorary Professor at the Technical University Berlin and at the ANU, and Emeritus Professor of the University of Canberra. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, a Life Member of the Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association, and a Life Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. He was Professor of Computing and Head of the School of Computing at the University of Canberra, Professor of Computing Science at the University of the South Pacific, and  held other research and teaching positions at Technical University of Munich, National University of Singapore, Nixdorf AG, University of Wollongong, Australian National University and University of New South Wales/Australian Defence Force Academy.

Michael’s main research interest has been in speech science and technology and he was the Foundation President of ASSTA and a Board Member of ISCA. Since 2010, his research interest has been focussed on biometrics, and he leads a spin-off company engaged in research and consulting in forensic speaker recognition. He is the author of more than 200 publications in the field of speech science and technology.

Dr. Bronwen Innes 

Some years after completing a Masters degree in Linguistics (Victoria University of Wellington) and becoming a secondary school teacher, conversations with her lawyer husband about the use of language in legal settings sparked her interest in working further in this area. She undertook a PhD with a thesis looking into misunderstandings and powerless language style within some Auckland District Court hearings. She continued her research into judges summings up for juries in criminal trials in the Auckland High Court and into how well people understand NZ bill of rights information used by police when detaining people.

She practices as a consultant forensic linguist, including giving expert evidence, as well as editing and training in plain language writing, and taught linguistics at the University of Auckland over a number of years. Recent casework has involved comments on witnesses’ evidence on a cold murder case, reviewing telephone calls and texts, preparing transcripts for and commenting on a series of recordings for a coronial case.

Dr Debbie Loakes 
Dr. Loakes holds a doctorate from the University of Melbourne, where she is working as a Research Fellow in the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence. Her 2006 Ph.D. thesis examined the speech patterns of identical and non-identical twins – the extended abstract is available here. You can also read more about Debbie’s interest in forensics over the years via this blog post.

As well as forensic speaker comparison, Dr. Loakes’ research interests include the phonetics of Australian English, Aboriginal English and Aboriginal languages. She also has casework experience in contested utterances. One of her recent publications about Australian English can be seen here.