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First time working as a court interpreter
Thread poster: Stanislaw Czech, MCIL

Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:16
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Sep 11, 2006

Hello,

I work mostly as translator and sometimes as interpreter. I specialize in translating legal and business texts. I have a fair experience in consecutive interpreting, also performed in solicitor's office however on Wednesday for the first time I am going to work in court. I didn't want to refuse the offer as it comes from my regular client, however I must admit that I am rather anxious. What surprises can I expect, and what last minute preparations can I make to perform to my best?
I will be very grateful for any suggestions.

Staszek


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Heidi C  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:16
English to Spanish
+ ...
Some comments... Sep 11, 2006

Hi,

I've been practicing to take the Federal Court Interpreter Exam for the US, taken some courses and have been at the Federal court several times. I can tell you the following: (I assume much will be same no matter the country)

1. I assume that as this is your first time, you are not certified and you are interpreting for someone's client (in addition or instead of the interpreter provided by the court?). So you should clarify first with your "employer" whom are you interpreting for and who you should expect will be speaking: witnesses (expert or not), defendant, etc. Also ask where will you stand, if it will be consecutive translation for the whole court or just simultaneous for the client.

2. Find out what kind of hearing this is. That will allow you to check out terminology and will help you to know what to expect.

2. Try to find out beforehand the basic information regarding the case you will be interpreting for: names, addresses, charges, etc.

3. You will probably have some "standard" things that are said and you will have to interpret (swearing in, the laws and dockets being quoted, etc...) If possible, get a hold of them and write this down so you will be ready (these are usually read out at a million miles an hour...)

4. Don't know how it works in the UK, but you should also know if your interpretation is what will go in the record and what is your liability!

5. Don't know what your language pair is, but you should also check the origin of the person you are interpreting to/for to make sure you will understand the slang and specific words that might mean something different. (At least in Spanish, this really is important with so many different countries speaking the language...) Probably you will be interpreting more regular everyday language than any technical or legal terms.

feel rather presumptuous answering, but saw that after all these hours you've received no other response.

Hope this helps!!!

Heidi


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Anne Lee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:16
Member (2003)
Dutch to English
+ ...
some general information for the UK. Sep 11, 2006

- Be careful who you sit next to/talk to in advance. You are there as a neutral 'interpreting machine'. Do not take sides or get involved in the case.
- When you know who you are interpreting for, introduce yourself (make sure you understand each other), explain that you are neutral, and feel free to interpret everything that goes on in court for that person. But don't get too personal.
- You will be asked to step into the witness box first to take the oath. The text will be given to you to read out. You will be asked whether you want to swear on the Bible, Koran or other book.
- It may be difficult for you to know where to sit or stand. You may be asked to sit next to the defendant. Be assertive about where you stand. I was once asked by the judge to stand next to the defendant but spent the next hour sandwiched between 3 gangsters on the narrow bench because I did not dare to object. Not my finest hour.
- Avoid addressing the judge directly unless you are asked a direct question. It's considered rude.
- Be absolutely sure that you interpret everything the witness/accused says absolutely correctly. Do not guess. No need to mimick gestures, since everyone in court will have seen those. But do not be afraid to mimick the tone, style, sexual innuendo, etc. It is very important that you work accurately as an 'interpreting machine'. You can always stretch out your arm and point to the person you are interpreting for to make clear that what you are saying came from them, not you.
- Speak in the same form as the person you are interpreting for. Say 'I saw him' rather than 'he saw him', or : 'I am asking you where you were that night' rather than: 'She wants to know where you were that night'.

Feel free to contact me about any questions you may have. I have interpreted quite a few times in courts and followed several training courses on the subject.


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KLS
Local time: 18:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
A few basic preparations Sep 12, 2006

Hello Stanislaw,

It is quite understandable that you are a bit anxious about the prospect of working in Court for the first time as it can be a daunting experience. I hope a few basic preparations will help to ease your nerves.

You haven’t told us whether it is a civil or criminal matter, or which Court you will be working in (Crown Court, Magistrates Court, County Court, etc). If you would care to share this information with us perhaps we can provide some information specific to the assignment. In any case here are some general comments about the preparations you should make.

Firstly there are some basic details which you need to obtain from the solicitors who have instructed you:
the name and location of the Court;
the time the case is listed for;
the names of the defendant(s) (criminal);
the names of the parties (civil);
the charge(s) (criminal);
the nature of the claim or application (civil);
the type of hearing (i.e. is it a full trial, a remand hearing, a committal, etc etc).

I am assuming that you have already had a discussion about rates with the instructing solicitors and confirmed who is going to pay you.

You can confirm the time the case is listed for and find out which courtroom you will be in by looking at www.courtnews2.co.uk/courtlists/current/indexdailies.htm.

Plan your journey to the Court and make sure that you get there early. If the case is listed for (say) 10.00, you may be required for conferences from 09.30 onwards. It's a good idea to get there even earlier to familiarise yourself with your environment. You need to be in control!

As soon as you arrive at Court, check the daily list (normally close to the entrance) to confirm yet again which courtroom you will be in. Make a note of the case number if you haven’t done so already.

Next you need to announce your arrival to the usher. The usher is arguably the most important person in the Court and can smooth the way for you considerably, so you need to make sure they know who you are and what is going on. They also need to know your religion and whether you swear or affirm. BTW take some business cards as often the court clerk will ask you for one.

If there is time, work out the geography of the courtroom in advance and find out where you will have to stand to take the interpreter's oath.

After that you need to make contact with the lawyers and the person you will be working with. Sometimes the usher or court clerk will help you to do this, sometimes you may have to have them tannoyed, it depends on the set-up at the particular Court. But do this as soon as possible so that the lawyers have plenty of time to talk to their client before the hearing.

That's it for the initial preparations really. I second everything said by Anne, the only thing I would add is that you need to know how to address the judge in case of need. The general rule is:
Magistrates Court: Your Worship or Sir/Madam;
County Court, Crown Court except Central Criminal Court: Your Honour;
All higher Courts and Central Criminal Court: My Lord/Lady.

HTH. If you can give us any more details about the Court or the type of hearing perhaps we can come up with some more specific info.

Alan Thompson
Court and public service interpreter (UK)
Member, Association of Police & Court Interpreters


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Sybille  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:16
Member (2003)
English to German
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Working as a court interpreter Sep 12, 2006

You could ask at the court to get the statement of claim to read it and get to know, what the case is about and you could look for specific words beforehand at home. This is what I did, when I had to interpret in court. It helps a lot.

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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:16
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you very much Sep 12, 2006

I didn't expect that so many people will take so much effort in answering my question. Your support means a lot to me, really!

I have already sent some questions to the client, so hopefully soon I will know more about the case, for the time being all I know is that it will take place in the Crown Court.

For the time being I am trying to refresh my vocabulary and not get too stressed


Stanislaw


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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:16
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Some more questions Sep 12, 2006

I've just received a reply from my client (agency) saying that thaeu do not have any more details (other than they alreeady gave me - address, solicitor, client, time) .

Probably I will try to get there as soon as possible, and get as much as possible from solicitor and client.

However I have one more question: where can I find typical phrases, which may be used in the Crown Court during a hearing? I realise that I can find them in the dictionary and I have a few of them, but what I have in mind is step by step description of a typical hearing.

Cheers Stanislaw


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:16
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
It really depends on what kind of hearing you're going to interpret Sep 12, 2006

A few of them are here:

http://www.dca.gov.uk/procedurerules.htm

http://www.oah.wa.gov/PAStep.htm

Anne has about said it all, but one REALLY important thing to remember is that judges consider interpreters ex-officio. This means it is assumed you will interpret as well for one party as for another, all other things being equal - you take no sides. Hence, a lawyer attempting to debunk his adversary by hitting the court interpreter or the adversary's private interpreter is out of order. DON'T let it break your concentration, because some of them will try.


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Anne Lee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:16
Member (2003)
Dutch to English
+ ...
web site on crown court procedures Sep 12, 2006

For the sake of completeness, I'm adding this website, which I already passed on to you by email:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/foi/internalops/og/ogprocedures/prosecutions/appear.htm

Anne


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KLS
Local time: 18:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
One last piece of advice Sep 12, 2006

You can find more information about the procedure in Crown Court hearings at this address:
http://www.cjsonline.gov.uk/framework/ccmf/index.html

Having said that, it is probably better not to worry too much about the exact procedure at this stage.

There is, however, one vital piece of information you need, and that is the wording of the charge (indictment) because if (as I suspect) you are going to attend a Plea and Case Management Hearing then you will have to translate the words of the charge fairly quickly, before asking the defendant whether they plead guilty or not guilty.

If you speak to the clerk of the court before the hearing, he or she will probably be able to give you a copy. If not, make sure you get a copy from the defence barrister before you go into Court, and prepare your translation in advance.

Best of luck with the assignment!

Alan Thompson


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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:16
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
First day is over Sep 13, 2006

It appears that it is quite a large case, however my role in it is fortunately less than insignificant. I've been hired by defendent's solicitors just to translate his (defendents) testimony. As he speaks English reasonably well I don't have to translate questions for him and my role is limited to translating his answers which are going to be quite strightforward. I am writing "are going to" because so far I spent almost all day listening to the testimonies of witneses of prosecution.
I could hardly imagine more friendly introduction in work of court interpreter

I have just one more question - the agenc pays me 2 rates one lower for traveling and waiting, and another one for translating. Everyday there is a lunch break from 1 to 2 PM, should I charge for this hour the lower rate for waiting, or not charge it at all?

Tomorrow I am going there again and this time I will have much more work as the defendent will be examined, but after all it won't be my first day in the Crown Court

I would like to thank everyone for your help and support
Stanislaw



[Edited at 2006-09-13 17:47]


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 13:16
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
Small but important point Sep 13, 2006

Anne Lee wrote:

- Be careful who you sit next to/talk to in advance. You are there as a neutral 'interpreting machine'. Do not take sides or get involved in the case.
- When you know who you are interpreting for, introduce yourself (make sure you understand each other), explain that you are neutral, and feel free to interpret everything that goes on in court for that person. But don't get too personal.



This includes not accepting or offering a ride, lunch etc to any party involved.

Nancy


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KLS
Local time: 18:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Luncheon adjournment not usually paid for Sep 14, 2006

Hi again Stanislaw,

I am very pleased to hear that it is going well and that your introduction to Court interpreting has been a good experience.

You have been lucky in that your defendant understands English well; this certainly takes some of the pressure off you.

When you come to translate his evidence, there may be occasions when you are required to translate the questions, either because the defendant does not fully understand, or because you are asked to do so by the judge or by Counsel, so make sure you have a translation ready in your head.

To answer your question, the practice in the Crown Court is that the lunch break is not paid for. However, if you are asked by defence Counsel to work during part or all of the lunch break, you are entitled to claim for it. If that happens get the barrister to endorse your claim form just to avoid any misunderstandings.

Keep up the good work!

Alan


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Aline C.

Local time: 18:16
English to Finnish
Payment for court work Sep 18, 2006

Dear Staszek,

As far as I understand you have been hired to work in the court by an agency, therefore any agreement re. payment is between you and an agency, not between you and the court or between you and the crown prosecution service if you interpret for the prosecution witness therefore usual arrangments between court and interpreter of which KLS wrote do not apply. As you might be aware fully qualified interpreters who are on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters would rarely accept work in the criminal court via an agency as agencies take quite a substantial cut from interpreter's fees (i.e. while crown court would pay 2/3 of the full interpreting rate for journey time, there is no separate payment for waiting - once you are in court you are paid the full rate). If - as you say - you have been hired to interpret for the defendant you should be sitting next to him in the dock and help him understand what is going on in the court room and that is work. Do not let the agency tell you that just because you have not been interpreting in the wintess box you have been waiting.

Unfortunately, agencies all too often engage inexperienced interpreters who do not have enough clout to demand appropriate payment for their services. If you are planning a career in court interpreting I would advise you to join the NRPSI (after passing the exam) and join British interpreting organisations. You would learn then that there is a campaign going on at the moment to enforce the use of NRPSI in criminal courts.

Kasia


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Marsha Conroy  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:16
English to French
+ ...
Great answers for first-time interpreters! Oct 15, 2006

I read with interest the replies to Staszek's request for advice for first-time court interpreters, and I must say -what great answers and helpful advice was given! I do courtroom interpreting myself, and yet I benefitted very much from reading over the coments.
Staszek, I encourage you to do a bit of research before beginning to interpret in court- find out as much as you can about the case, read over files if possible. When I am contacted by my liaison, I ask what the case involves so that I can do a bit of research to prepare myself (verify vocabulary, review a similar case, etc).
I also ask both the client and their attorney whether or not they have had experience working with interpreters. Remind them that you are a voice, not a counsel, and that you will interpret everything as spoken, (so if they don't want something interpreted, don't say it!) Direct them to speak directly to the judge-the client-the attorney; they should not tell you to tell them something - you'll have to interpret it that way. Be prepared to tell the client that you do not have the authority to advise or counsel in any way- they will invariably ask you things like "What should I say" "What would you do?"
You will find that, like with any other skill, practice will make you much more confident and professional. Good luck to you!


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