Good practice/standards of max. interpreting time lengths
Thread poster: lizzy g

lizzy g  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:04
Italian to English
Apr 30, 2010


I wonder if anyone can point me to any UK or international standards/best practice on the issue of recommended maximum time lengths for interpreters?

I am involved in a UK asylum case where the Immigration Judge has conceeded that a serious interpreting error has resulted in it being necessary to hold a fresh hearing. However, while conceeding the necessity of a fresh hearing, the Judge wrote in the determination, 'It would be unrealistic to expect word for word perfection over some hours from the court interpreter'.

In my view, the Judge is missing the point: a court interpreter should NEVER be expected to interpret for 'some hours' without adequate breaks.

Are there any authoritative sources I can point to that outline recommended time lengths and breaks?

Many thanks!


- For your information, asylum hearings usually require a period of consecutive interpreting during the evidence session followed by simultanous interpreting during the representatives' submissions.

[Edited at 2010-04-30 14:02 GMT]


Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:04
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
This seems to be a good one... Apr 30, 2010

Check this out:

Can domestic courts learn from international courts and tribunals about good practice court interpreting?

Ludmila Stern, University of New South Wales
Or this one from Jasmina Djordjevic

and more
and more:



Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:04
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Apr 30, 2010


[Edited at 2010-04-30 19:26 GMT]


Ivana UK  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:04
Member (2005)
Italian to English
Hi Lizzy, May 1, 2010

Funnily enough, I can't find much on the subject but I did find this, which applies to England and Wales. Take a look at the last sentence:

Research suggests that interpreters should be offered breaks by the court at least every 30 minutes. It is not considered that the break should be lengthy - 5-10 minutes should be sufficient. A great deal of concentration is required for both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting and consequently mistakes may be made if interpreters are tired. It is recognised that this is wholly a matter for the court. However it is recommended at the outset of any case in which an interpreter will be involved the Procurator Fiscal should refer to this expert view and the relevant research. It should be recommended that the court should afford the interpreter the appropriate regular breaks.

If Procurators Fiscal experience any regular difficulties in this context, for example by Sheriffs refusing to afford interpreters regular breaks of the kind suggested, Crown Office Policy Group should be advised in writing.

Also see the Terms of appointment for courts, police, immigration and customs, issued by the National Union of Professional Interpreters & Translators.


[Edited at 2010-05-01 12:52 GMT]


lizzy g  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:04
Italian to English
Thanks May 4, 2010

Thank you all for suggestions and useful links! It is very useful to have this material as hopefully it will help avoid future situations of 'blame the interpreter' when s/he has been working for 3.5 hours non-stop!


Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:04
German to English
+ ...
Maybe also contact MIIS May 4, 2010

Monterey Institute of International Studies may have some faculty who could help you pin down more information. When I studied interpreting there, we were always told that 1/2 hour was the recommended time limit, at least for simultaneous.

I think Holly Mikkelson would be the person to contact.


juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:04
English to Hungarian
+ ...
I checked it out... May 4, 2010

I am grateful to Ed introducing us to a lot of useful information, but this one I can only recommend with a pinch of salt.

I am afraid, this article reads (sort of)icon_wink.gif more like a populist introduction to total novices than a serious discourse on the subject. The intentions are right, but unfortunately there are too many assumptions and inaccuracies in it.

Just one example, the first point of "What a good court interpreter should know":
1. Court interpreters translate for foreign criminal offenders who have committed a crime on the territory of a country they do not reside in.

Criminal court interpreters INTERPRET for the defendant(s) who may or may not committed a crime, or witness(es) in the case, who do not speak - or do not speak sufficiently - the language of the court, or for those at court in official capacity who do not understand the language of the people mentioned, regardless where the crime was committed in relation to the residence and nationality of the accused.
Court interpreters may also work in other than criminal courts.

I rest my case.

[Edited at 2010-05-04 15:29 GMT]


Liviu-Lee Roth
United States
Local time: 14:04
Romanian to English
+ ...
agree with juvera... May 4, 2010

Any serious (or not-so-serious) court interpreter should take it with more than a grain of salt. Some statements are completely inaccurate. Ex. The interpreter dictates the rhythm of the defendant's statement or the interpreter asks the judge to move closer to the defendant (in a court of law ?????)
What else can the Mighty Interpreter do ?


Ivana UK  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:04
Member (2005)
Italian to English
Lizzy May 9, 2010

I have a Handbook for Interpreters (given to me by an agency earlier this year), specifically for the Tribunals Service, which applies to Asylum & Immigration Tribunals, Asylum Support Tribunals, Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panels, Employment Tribunals, Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunals, Social Security & Child Support Tribunals and Mental Health Review Tribunals.

A copy of the handbook is available on the Tribunals Services website under Publications:

On the subject of breaks the handbook sets out:

If you feel you require a break, after e.g. working continuously for three or more hours, please ask the Judiciary for a short adjournment. You may, however, have to fit your breaks into the hearing schedule.

The 'terms and conditions for individuals providing face-to-face interpretation services' on the same website ( sets out:

If at any time you feel the need for any type of break, whether through fatigue; or the need for refreshment; or for any reason that might affect your ability to act as an interpreter, you should ask for a break and we will not unreasonably decline any such request.

Hope this helps.

[Edited at 2010-05-09 13:27 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-05-09 13:29 GMT]


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