Aug 2010

Court Interpreting: A Specialised Skill

Court interpreting is a highly specialised and extremely difficult area of expertise. It involves obtaining an accreditation in simultaneous interpretation, which in itself is notoriously difficult to obtain and there are, consequently, only a few thousand simultaneous interpreters of any merit. The court interpreter must know two languages to near-perfection, with a wide variety of general knowledge to accommodate for most situations; they must have the skill of being able to interpret by listening to what is being said by the speaking party and immediately relaying the translated version to the listening party, for prolonged periods of time. An accredited court interpreter must also have knowledge of the legal system and its processes, and the vocabulary and idiosyncrasies of the courtroom; these comprise a highly complex and semantic set of rules and regulations.

Court interpreting is very different from normal simultaneous interpretation in a variety of ways: one such difference is that the person requiring the translation is often a witness or defendant (the person on trial) and will be subject to witnessing evidence that is frequently of a stressful nature. They may be angered or upset by a barrister in an attempt to garner the truth; all this results in a person whose speech may be irregular and often mumbled. The court interpreter will have to then translate this for the full comprehension of others within the court. Because of the extreme conditions they work in, and the levels of concentration required in order to perform court interpretation at such a high standard, interpreters often work in pairs to alleviate stress and ensure interpretations are done accurately.

Another reason why accredited court interpreting is regularly conducted in pairs is due to the fact that words in one language do not correspond with words in another language and so ambiguity pursues. In a legal setting ambiguity is a very dangerous thing. Hence, two interpreters can reach a consensus on how to accurately portray the meaning of what is being said: this is very important for a court because, not only does it focus on the meaning of words but also how traditional English vocabulary can possess denote a different meaning in legal English (e.g. “agree” and “consent”) and quite often reflect upon an individual’s rights of freedom.

An accredited court interpreter is usually employed throughout the entire court process – from interrogation to the final case – and so can often be contacted late at night or early in the morning, and have to perform to consistently high standards when woken in the early hours of the morning, feeling groggy and unprepared. This can lead to additional difficulties and underlines the importance of carefully choosing the best interpreter for your court interpreting case.



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