This paper explores the constructed nature of legal complaints through the adoption of a socio-linguistic model with an emphasis upon pragmatics and elements of conversation analysis. When making a legal complaint, we posit that there is a conflict between effective communication and the uptake of politeness strategies. Furthermore, how complaints are ‘worked up’ in situ is a product of the arena in which such complaints are made. Through a textual analysis of the methods of complaining adopted by those who make representations to the licensing authority, for the purposes of objecting to a licence application, we show the tension between making oneself clear and being polite, and how complaints in different settings take different forms. We conclude by exploring the implications of our findings for legal processes—is it reasonable, for instance, to talk of ‘consistency’ in testimony if each complaint is worked up in situ—and for pragmatic theory more generally, i.e the applicability of Brown and Levinson’s politeness model for legal processes.Peer-reviewedPost-prin
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