Court Interpreting

A court interpreter accompanies someone who must appear in court and is unable to speak the language of the courts, interpreting what is said to them by the legal officials present, as well as interpreting what they say for the rest of the court. The client could be a defendant, a witness, or a plaintiff.

It is a particularly specialised branch of interpreting that requires special training, experience, high levels of competence and often certifications from the relevant state in order to practice professionally. In this blog we will discuss how court interpreters work and the intricacies of their role, as well as the challenges it can present.

How do court interpreters work?

You may have heard of or observed some of the different types of interpreting that exist. For example,
simultaneous interpreting is usually used at large events such as conferences where the interpreter sits in a separate room translating as the speaker speaks, whereas consecutive interpreting is used for smaller events or negotiations where the interpreter provides a translation after short sections of speech. This is the type of interpreting a court translator uses.

Court interpreters are highly trained and well-versed in legal vocabulary, but they also get the chance to study the case for the trial they are attending beforehand, in order to be the most prepared possible. That being said, anything can happen in a courtroom, and they must also be able to interpret spontaneously, as any interpreter must.

Interpreting is a mentally arduous task, and can also be vocally demanding. Depending on how long the trial goes on for, interpreters may work in teams. Generally, if more than one interpreter is required, they will work in a team of two, changing over approximately every 30 minutes. Working in teams ensures the accuracy of the interpretation.

What challenges do they face?

One of the most important skills court interpreters must have is a sound knowledge of legal terminology. The complexity and variety of legal terms makes this difficult in one language, let alone two! What’s more, different countries’ legal systems often have no equivalence to each other. Interpreters must also keep themselves up to date with changing laws and terminology.

However, no matter how prepared a court interpreter may be, other factors which are out of their control may pose challenges. One of these is the speed at which members of the courtroom speak, often not considering the breaks in speech an interpreter requires. Legal professionals are usually very busy, and can get impatient with the way interpretation can significantly extend the length of an event. This speed does not allow the interpreter to opportunity to look something up if they need to. 

To add to this, acoustics can also pose problems. Courtrooms can be very large, and if not equipped with amplification systems, it can mean the interpreter has difficulty hearing and being heard. What’s more, defendants or witnesses appearing in court can be under a lot of stress, which may affect their articulation and coherence.

One of the main professional requirements of a court interpreter, besides competence, is to remain strictly impartial. This is not just in relation to the way in which they translate what is said, but also in their communication with the client, who may view them as an ally. This must be avoided as it may present conflicts of interest, and an interpreter should uphold the same neutrality as a judge or a court reporter.

On top of this, the idea is that the courtroom interpreter should be an invisible element, even if they are not in hidden away in a booth but rather standing before the court. They act only as an intermediary and do not add or take away anything. This can be made difficult, however, as many people speak directly to the interpreter, rather than the client!

Do you have any experiences as a courtroom interpreter and want to share some of the challenges you’ve faced? Tweet us @lexgotranslations! We love to share and hear everything about translation and interpreting in its different fields.

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