The Language of Criminal Trials in an Inquisitorial System: The Case of the Netherlands

Martha L. Komter and Marijke Malsch

in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199572120
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 The Language of Criminal Trials in an Inquisitorial System: The Case of the Netherlands

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  • Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics
  • Language Families


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This article discusses the role of language in inquisitorial systems, also known as civil law systems. It focuses on the highly professionalized inquisitorial criminal justice system in the Netherlands, where the dependence on documentary evidence is noticeable the moment one enters a Dutch courthouse. Ushers can be seen pushing trolleys stacked with files and papers, on their way to the courtroom or to the archives. The prominent role of the case file is also evident inside the courtrooms, not only as a central source of information around which the events are organized, but also as material presence. The discussion starts by considering how adversarial systems differ from inquisitorial criminal justice systems, and then describes some typical features of Dutch criminal trials, positioning these in relation to adversarial and other inquisitorial criminal justice systems. It concludes by discussing the language of Dutch criminal trials focused on the central position of the case file for the activities of the judges.

Keywords: language; criminal trials; Netherlands; inquisitorial systems; civil law systems; adversarial systems; criminal justice systems; case file; courtrooms; judges

Article.  5797 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Forensic Linguistics ; Language Families

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