Research

My research focuses principally on the relationship between law, language and translation in multilingual legal orders, in particular the EU. I am also interested in the functioning of EU and international legal institutions and the relationship between law and language more generally, including the role and use of language within distinct legal systems. My work is largely empirical and highly interdisciplinary. My current research concentrates broadly on the following areas:

The relationship between law, language and translation in the multilingual EU legal order

I use language as a lens through which to study the EU legal order, and in particular the Court of Justice of the European Union. Law is an overwhelmingly linguistic construct – it is created, interpreted and applied through language.  The relatively recent development and expansion of the field of law and language demonstrates that, in the global legal arena at least, there is an increasing acknowledgement of this among legal scholars.  Of course, language cannot be divorced from culture, and indeed linguistic theory claims that languages constitute cultures.  Often the same communicative systems exist across cultures, but the form and content of those systems are not identical, because different languages represent reality in different ways.  Law can be considered a culture-specific communicative system.  Legal concepts and legal language arise from the application of the linguistic resources of the legal communicative system to real life situations.  In that process certain areas of life are ‘juridified’, i.e. They are described in terms of words used in the law, and turned into legal concepts.  Those legal concepts are usually specific to a particular legal culture. Language has a significant impact on the development and functioning of any legal order. However, the question of language is particularly relevant in the EU legal order. EU law exists in 24 different linguistic versions, and is (currently) applicable throughout 28 different national legal orders. Therefore the question of language in EU law, and within the legal institutions of the EU, is not only about abstract issues of language and culture, and philosophy of language, but also about the very ‘real’ issue of translation.

My work in this area clarifies the way in which language plays a key role in determining judicial outcomes at the EU level. I challenge EU scholarship to look beyond more conventional approaches to the development of a rule of law, which draw on law alone. In research into the role of language and multilingualism at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) I aim to shine a light on the processes and institutional culture within that court, which are otherwise invisible and which have a significant impact on the case law that it produces.

Post-enlargement dynamics of law and language in EU institutions

EU enlargements have always cultivated discussions concerning the organisational structure of of that Union. The sheer scale of the enlargements in 2005, 2007 (and the most recent accession in 2013) certainly highlighted the need for restructure within EU institutions. To a lesser extent, Brexit also raises such questions. However, issues of an organisational nature are not the only challenges that must be faced: the effect of enlargement(s) on the institutional dynamics of the European Court of Justice, Commission and Parliament have implications for the development of EU law and European governance. The representatives of the various member states bring to those multilingual, multicultural institutions the influence of their own languages, legal systems and cultures. My work in this area focuses how the dynamics and organisational structure of the Court of Justice of the European Union may be affected by such influences. I explore whether such dynamics of law and language require the rethinking of exisiting problematics and development of new ways of functioning for that court, and the implications that may have for the development of EU law.

New methodologies for studying the development of EU law

My research is highly interdisciplinary, bringing together research fields which traditionally pay little attention to each other – linguistic theories, anthropological research methods and law. While this type of interdisciplinary research is very interesting, it does pose challenges, particularly when trying to reconcile methods from different disciplines and presenting findings to diverse audiences. In my work, I have brought forward new research questions, methods and new empirical material to the study of EU law and particularly the Court of Justice of the European Union. In the context of my ERC-funded project Law and Language at the European Union (the LLECJ project), I am striving to find a way to unite the analyses performed using diverse research methods so that they can transcend disciplines.

Law and Corpus Linguistics

The use of corpus linguistics (CL) in legal interpretation and the application of CL tools, theories and methodologies to legal issues has gained momentum in recent years. We are now seeing the emergence of a new academic sub-discipline of Law and Corpus Linguistics. My work in this area has involved using corpus linguistics methods to investigate specific research questions in the context of my ERC-funded project Law and Language at the European Union (the LLECJ project), including the development of specialised tools.

In 2016 I was awarded €150,000 from the European Research Council to develop the EU Case Law Corpus, a standardised, multidimensional and multilingual corpus containing all judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) and judgments delivered by constitutional and/or supreme courts of (currently) seven EU member states. Details of that project can be found here.

Although I use CL tools and methods to investigate legal and socio-legal research questions, I remain skeptical as to their utility as a broad-brush method in legal interpretation. Such methods can be useful to explore particular research questions. However, contextualisation is extremely important, as well as careful consideration of what is to be measured and why. My current writing in this area explores the challenges and limitations of using CL to explore legal issues.