Mark Liberman at Language Log cites a Utah court that has relied on corpus linguistics. It was necessary to define the word custody in connection with a child, and some of the dictionary definitions were irrelevant. He cites Gordon Smith at Conglomerate:
Today, my former colleague and current Utah Supreme Court Justice Tom Lee used corpus linguistics in a lengthy concurring opinion (the relevant section starts at page 34). In this opinion, Justice Lee is interpreting the word “custody,” and he brings corpus linguistics to the fight. Of course, it’s no accident that Stephen Mouritsen is Justice Lee’s law clerk, but the bigger point here is that Justice Lee was persuaded — as I am — of the value of corpus linguistics to shed light on this interpretive question. Justice Lee’s collegues are not enamored with the approach, but you can read the opinions for yourself and see who gets the better of the argument.
This was apparently the first judicial decision ever to rely on a corpus.
The question arises, and I want to turn to it shortly, whether corpora are useful for legal translation. My feeling is that a corpus could be useful to reveal the style of judgments, but less so when it comes to contracts. But that might be because I believe that a translation of German law into English should not deny its foreign origins. But more shortly,in connection with a webinar on corpora I ‘attended’ recently.