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Psycho-linguistic Analysis of Tax Judgements

McLeod, N. (1996) Psycho-linguistic Analysis of Tax Judgements. Forensic Linguists, 3 (2). pp. 232-249.

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Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a school of psychotherapy drawing heavily on Chomsky, holds that a client's distorted or inappropriate "world view" will manifest itself in linguistic structures. These structures serve to delete or disguise sentence content so that the client avoids having to recognise the inappropriateness of the premises on which he or she is operating.

The author believes that Australian income tax jurisprudence represents a dysfunctional "world view", especially in so far as it is based on wholly inappropriate trust law concepts. Lord Green MR noted that "in many [tax] cases it is almost true to say that the spin of a coin would decide the matter almost as satisfactorily as an attempt to find reasons". Judges are imbued with this inappropriate jurisprudence, and forced to work within its parameters. They, too, tend to use linguistic devices to mask its inadequacies. These devices create the illusion that the court has arrived at its decision through the logical application of what are inherently irrational "principles". In this way judges are able to preserve the plausibility of an unstable tax law jurisprudence.

It is not suggested that judges are contriving their speech at the conscious level. Rather, linguistic formations at the unconscious level enable them to convert their intuitive reactions to tax problems into respectable judicial discourse.

The linguistic structures considered in this paper include:

• the substitution of active verbs for passive ones as a means of transforming reality (and its attendant taxation consequences);
• validating an invalid statement by conjoining it to a valid but logically unrelated, or even contradictory, one
• corroboration through repetition, and the assigning of causative force to synonyms for the outcome;
• the use of negative structure to avoid facing uncomfortable facts head on; and
• mere verbalisation of a factor as a substitution for its logical consideration.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Publisher: International Association of Forensic Linguists
Copyright: International Association of Forensic Linguists
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