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English for Law Training Blog:

The Serial Podcast

Mike Davies is a language trainer for Legal English UK.  In this blog post, he looks at the podcast that is encouraging English language speakers around the world to take a greater interest in criminal law.  


Our Legal English trainers are always encouraging our students to immerse themselves in law and the English language as much as possible.  The "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of the Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani trials show how much law students (and others) can learn about the legal process from media.  As the South African system is not dissimilar to the English legal system, these trials are especially relevant for lawyers wishing to work in the UK.  



In 1999, a young student named Hae Min Lee was found dead in a Baltimore park.  Subsequently, her former boyfriend Adnan Syed was put on trial and eventually convicted for her murder.  


A reporter named Sarah Koenig looked at the facts of the case and considered there to be some discrepancies.  As reporters are wont to do, she dug a little further into the evidence as she was unsure of the safety of Adnan's conviction.


The podcast is the result of these efforts and it has become one of the most downloaded podcasts of all time, not only in the US but in several other countries as well.


What Legal English students can learn

In England and Wales, court cases are never televised unless it is The Supreme Court, so tutors wishing to expose their students to the legal system have only the randomness of a live court hearing to show their students.


TV coverage of these trials and the Serial podcast provide a greater insight into the justice process and also the gathering of evidence.  We accept that most international lawyers looking to work in the UK will not be working in criminal law, but the process remains fascinating.



The Dewani trial collapsed due to an unreliable witness, while in the Syed trial, the changing testimony of an unreliable witness was not focused on that much.  The investigative journalist seems surprised that sometimes the police were more likely to try and make the best case they could rather than finding the whole truth.



As non-lawyers are watching and listening to these programmes as well, it is one of the few opportunities that Legal English students and lawyers get to actually talk about the law in a serious way.  Everyone has an opinion about Pistorius and Syed, so you can use this as an opportunity to practise your Legal English.



Predictably, there has been a backlash against the Serial podcast.  It has been accused of sensationalism, or making entertainment out of murder.  The critics do have a point, but Serial aficionados would argue that the legal world is a very closed area, and any opportunity to open it up to greater scrutinty should be welcomed.  


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