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What a good court interpreter should know
It is very important to realise that interpretation in a courtroom is probably the most demanding of all forms of interpretation as far as accuracy and responsibility are concerned. Therefore, every interpreter should have a checklist, which they should get back to frequently.
There are several aspects to consider and understand as far as the courtroom is concerned:
Foreign offenders at court:
1. Court interpreters translate for foreign criminal offenders who have committed a crime on the territory of a country they do not reside in.
2. If an offender has been caught in a criminal act on the territory of a foreign country, the legal authorities of that country are to handle the complete procedure from the moment of arrest to the announcing of the sentence.
3. Convicted offenders can serve their sentence in special prison facilities for foreigners or they can ask for transfer to their country of domicile by submitting an appropriate plea.
4. The service of an interpreter is required from the moment the offender is arrested which gives the interpreter the opportunity to familiarise him/ herself with the particulars of the case. That is quite useful because when the trial is about to begin, the interpreter will already have covered the necessary vocabulary, having it much easier in the courtroom.
5. If the interpreter should not have been asked to be present at the moment of interrogation, the first formal encounter with the offender after he/ she has left the police station, will be at the investigative hearing. This is a step in some criminal administration procedures when the offender makes his/ her first statement, when the first minutes are taken down and when the defence lawyer may be chosen. This is also the opportunity for the offender to have his/ her first confidential conversation with the defence lawyer, and that of course includes the presence of the interpreter.
6. In rare cases of minor offences, the offender is released on bail.
7. In cases of serious offences, bail is out of the question as it would be extremely difficult to make the offenders come to court once they have left the country. This means that the offender will be kept in custody during the whole process, that is until a verdict has been reached and an appropriate sentence has been announced.
8. During the time they spend in custody, the defence lawyer is allowed to visit the offender in custody and prepare the defence properly, whereby the service of the interpreter will be required on every such occasion. It goes without saying that the interpreter is burdened with the same client-lawyer confidentiality obligation as the lawyer him/ herself.
9. The interpreter’s role is not just to fulfil a task but to be an essential part of the entire process. Obviously, the responsibility is huge. One wrongly, inaccurately, or imprecisely translated utterance might harm either the legal procedure or the defendant.
10. Sometimes, it may be extremely difficult to maintain an unbiased and objective attitude because the offender could be anything from petty thief to murderer. The interpreter should not be influenced by either the representatives of the system or by the offender. Similarly, the interpreter should not get emotional about the offender because most of them would do anything to go home free. Therefore, the interpreter should maintain the necessary level of professionalism and moral ethics, which will inevitably lead to a successfully accomplished job and a good name!
Interpreters at court:
1. In a real trial, the interpreter usually does not take notes because it is he/ she who may dictate the pace whereby the judge, the prosecutor, the defence lawyer and the accused usually follow.
2. A good thing about the courtroom is that the number of participants is smaller, most often the hearings are closed to the public and it is everybody’s interest to work through the case as accurately as possible.
3. A very important aspect is that the interpreter can always ask for clarification or for an utterance to be repeated. Sometimes even a sign or some kind of eye contact can signal the judge to clarify or repeat an utterance.
4. As far as the defendant is concerned, the interpreter can work with him or her directly by telling him to either speed up or slow down.
5. A good thing to know is that in some courtrooms the interpreter can ask the judge to stand next to the offender making it easier to keep up contact with both him and the judge. All these elements contribute to the fact that the interpreter can interrupt the speakers in order to translate a smaller chunk instead of waiting for them to say too many things, making translation more demanding.
Legalese at court:
1. A trial is much easier to handle than speeches or negotiations but the legal language is more demanding than in any other case of translation.
2. You should constantly work on your vocabulary in both source and target language, practice phrases, be aware that trials can involve murders, drugs, trafficking, accidents, robberies, etc. Naturally, each of the mentioned offences is accompanied by particular vocabulary.
3. Different types of experts and skilled professionals are often summoned, each of them having their particular area of expertise which imposes new semantic challenges. Doctors and pathologists as well as mechanical, road traffic, electric and electronic engineers will be frequent witnesses and they will all speak in court. The interpreter will have to translate their words both in direct confrontation with the judge or just for the sake of clarification to the defendant while he is listening to the statements.
4. The defendant has a right to know what is being said at all times so the interpreter will be doing both consecutive and simultaneous translation, depending on whether the offender is answering to the judge or sitting on his bench and listening to other witnesses. If the simultaneous is too difficult, the interpreter can summarise important aspects of the statements uttered which is even better since it is less demanding for the interpreter and it is less noisy! The defendants mainly opt for it as well because they are interested in the basics only and do not want to bother with details they do not understand or do not refer to something they might object to.
5. The interpreter can also tell the defendants that they can take a look at the minutes on a later occasion and prepare a proper statement or reaction to the witness’s account together with the lawyer.
1. The utterances of interlocutors are better translated by retaining the original person of speech. This means that if the speaker tells about something in the first person singular, the translation should be in the first person singular. As much as it might sound awkward, it is easier and much safer to retain the particular person of speech instead of transforming it into a third person.
2. In the case of trials and negotiations, when the interlocutors utter shorter chunks, the person of speech can be switched. The translator can even refer to Mr, Mrs or Miss Something and present their speech in the form of some translated version of their indirect speech.
3. As an interlocutor’s speech gets more complicated, the switching between the relevant persons can result in complicated and inaccurate translations. It needs some practice to get hold of it.
To conclude, though it may seem easy, it is not. It takes a few years of practice to be able to respond to interlocutors and to render accurate translations of their speech. Therefore, interpretation should never be underestimated.