AbstractThis paper examines the nature of language communication in legal settings in Jamaica. In this Caribbean territory, English is the official language of the legal system, but many Jamaicans who interact with the system are not proficient in it. Their dominant language is a lexically related but structurally discrete vernacular language, Jamaican. Justice system reform experts, while recognising that language barriers impede public understanding of and access to the system, have recommended that plain language solutions be adopted. The paper argues that these recommendations overlook the precise nature of the language problem and thus do not adequately address it. Analysing data from actual legal cases, the study shows how the legal system currently responds to language communication difficulties and how some practices might affect the administration of justice. It suggests that bilingual approaches be institutionalised to enhance understanding of discourse in legal settings by vernacular speakers with limited English proficiency.
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