The Trial as Complex Genre

  • Chris Heffer


A trial is simply one step in an ongoing legal story which might begin with the defendant’s precedents, continue through the present crime, arrest, police investigation and pre-trial hearings, and perhaps end in a Court of Appeal. However, the jury (the intended target of legal-lay discourse) will only hear the parts of the story that are presented in court. This chapter considers the trial as a whole as witnessed by the jury and explores the way lawyers structure their cases according to the demands of both the narrative and paradigmatic modes. Legal professionals tell stories in court, but they are stories shaped to fit paradigmatic legal-institutional generic structures. We might describe the consequent tension in the production of legal-lay discourse as being that between the construction of the case (a paradigmatic mode of sense-making) and the reconstruction of the crime (a narrative mode of sense-making). The chapter begins with some general perspectives on the trial as a complex genre. It then follows the structure of a typical trial, showing how these complex features come together in the individual trial genres.


Jury Trial Narrative Mode Narrative Discourse Jury Selection Story Schema 
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Copyright information

© Chris Heffer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Heffer
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Language and Communication ResearchCardiff UniversityUK

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