Communication privilege: could your communication be compromising your intentions?

Ms Rosalie Martin3
3Chatter Matters Tasmania, -, Australia

George Bernard Shaw, playwright and polemicist, said of communication “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.”

If the intended meaning in a message has not been received, that meaning has in effect not been sent at all. In deeply confounding fashion, entirely different meaning may have inadvertently been received. Mr Shaw’s illusion presents daily challenges for justice.

Low levels of spoken and written communication skills are over-represented amongst youth in the criminal justice system. This results in failure to fully comprehend legal process, rights and choice. It restricts expression of personal needs and perspectives. It negatively impacts access to the most basic human needs including maintenance of significant relationships and education.

Paradoxically, very high levels of communication skill are needed to efficiently navigate the justice system and its legal processes. Justice professionals draw upon high-levels of personal spoken and written language skills to first enter, and then work, in this system. Familiarity and fluency with these skills can contribute to an ‘unconscious competence’ in language that can unwittingly open the Shaw illusion to the detriment of justice.


Rosalie Martin is a criminologist, facilitator of reflective dialogue, and clinical speech pathologist of 34 years. In 2013 Rosalie founded a charity, Chatter Matters Tasmania, to bring literacy and parent-child attachment programs to Tasmania’s Risdon Prison. She was awarded 2017 Tasmanian Australian of the Year for the work she began at the prison. Rosalie is grateful for the platform this recognition has given to promote the value of kind communication in evidence-based service delivery. She is ever-grateful to family, friends and colleagues – for nothing is ever accomplished alone.

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