A variety of tasks is involved in legal interpreting work and all of them are complex. A court interpreter for example has several tasks to perform to maintain cross-cultural and cross-linguistic equivalence. It is the job of a legal or court interpreter as a representative of cultures and languages to help determine the result of legal processes. It could lead to a communication breakdown or communication success.
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Court interpreting is difficult. There is no interpreter’s booth where the interpreter can work comfortably. The client is rarely fluent or articulate and due to anxiety and fear, the client is often incoherent. The job is quite demanding, as the interpreter has to maintain impartiality between the involved parties and neutrality over the content. It is something difficult to do because the client often regards the interpreter as an ally since they both speak the same language. Thus the client feels that the interpreter can understand his or her side.
A court interpreter works alone, with the length of working time dependent on the time allocated for the client’s court appearance. The work is continuous, unlike in conference interpreting where a partner can take over the interpreting task while the other one takes a rest.
Interpreting is not the only task of a court interpreter. He or she is often involved in the entire legal process – typically from the time the client is interviewed after the arrest, which can be during unreasonable hours.
In a multiracial society like the United States where thousands of people speak different languages, proper communication is crucial. If a person who can only speak his native language finds himself in a legal situation, it is essential to have an accurate interpretation to avoid misunderstanding among the judge, defendants, lawyers, prosecutors and jury and ensure that the trial is fair.
Lack of Legal Interpreters
The requirements of the legal interpreting job are quite strict, which is one reason why legal interpreters are scarce in the U.S. Moreover, the number of languages spoken by people across the U.S. continue to increase. For example, the U.S. District Court in Orlando has a list of 115 contract interpreters. Most of them speak Mandarin, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish.
However, there are times when they have to find interpreters somewhere else in the U.S. because some defendants speak languages that are less common such as Igbo, K’iche’ and Wayuu.
In the Southern District of New York in Manhattan for example, they have enough legal interpreters, particularly Spanish court interpreters. However, there was also a time when they had to locate interpreters who can speak Mandingo. Paula Gold, the chief of interpreters in the district said that she contracted two interpreters in the said language because the trial was lengthy. However, only one spoke the Mandingo dialect correctly so he had to do all the interpreting work for the trial.
In fiscal year 2016, the National Court Interpreter Database only had 3,600 registered interpreters. Overall, they spoke more than 180 languages, wherein 120 were used by the courts regularly. Most of them were contractors. About 96% of the requests for interpreters were for Spanish. About 100 Spanish interpreters were employed by the Judiciary.
Dominant Languages Used in the Courts
According to the number of requests for specific languages, the top 10 most requested in FY 2016 are the following, (with the number of proceedings):
- Spanish – 254,736
- Mandarin – 1,640
- Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian – 952
- Russian – 950
- Portuguese – 835
- Arabic – 815
- Cantonese – 538
- Korean – 403
- Vietnamese – 360
- Romanian – 340
Due to the huge demand for Spanish legal interpreting services, the U.S. Judiciary now give examinations for Spanish interpreting certification. The final decision to appoint a court interpreter is made by the federal judges, but the courts are mandated by law to use certified Spanish interpreters whenever possible.
Certification tests for court interpreting are challenging, due primarily to the changing demands of the job and the situations. The Judiciary regularly reviews the examination process to ensure that it maintains integrity while lowering costs. In the past, the interpreters taking certification examinations were personally graded by a judging team composed of three members. Today, to reduce travel expenses, the test responses of candidates are recorded digitally and electronically sent to the exam reviewers
Why Court Interpreters are Important
Legal interpreting demands so much from the interpreters. They should capture a complicated and unscripted legal procedure in two languages accurately. The interpreting is done real time, meaning it is simultaneous. When English is spoken, the interpreter immediately renders it in the defendant’s language. When it is the turn of the defendant to speak, the interpreter switches to consecutive interpreting mode, injecting English interpretations periodically.
That’s how complicated legal interpreting is. Because the languages often do not match up, the court interpreters need to develop extensive glossaries of legal and various other terms in two languages. It is vital that the interpreter makes no error because it can disrupt the court proceedings, which can be grounds for the other party to make an appeal.
Exceptional skills in a language pair are just one part of the skill set that legal interpreters should possess. They should also be bi-cultural. They should be very good at taking notes and remain emotionally detached from either party. They are required to maintain transparency and accuracy at all times. According to their ethical standards, they are forbidden from changing, summarizing or censoring whatever they hear. Legal interpreters must render everything, whether they hear inflammatory or embarrassing statements and they should never soften or change the meaning of what has been said.
The work of the interpreters and the way they are prepared for a trial is vital for the completion of the mission of the court to ensure that justice is fairly delivered. For people with limited skills in the English language, their way to access justice is to have physical and linguistic presence.
Aside from the cultural and linguistic ability of the interpreters, it is also crucial that they have a deep understanding of criminal procedures and the country’s justice system.
In the UK for example, the Institute of Linguists offers a program to earn a Diploma in Public Sector Interpretation. The interpreter enrolled in the program should specialize in a particular subject such as local government, law or health. This particular diploma is regarded highly since it is an assurance that the interpreter has the right experience and knowledge to provide accurate interpretation.
Resource: Know more about language services in the legal industry in our free guide to this matter and how they can influence a case.
Features of Legal and Court Interpreters
All types of legal interpreting whether they occur in the courtroom or in other settings, such as immigration authorities, prisons and police departments are part of court interpreting.
The basic aim of the activity is to allow the client to take part in the proceedings. Interpreting gives a communication connection between the adjudicating bodies and the claimants through the assurance that there will be an effective interchange of messages and a successful legal procedure.
Court interpreters work legal cases that involve persons of different literacy competence, social status, cultural backgrounds and age. Their knowledge of cultural elements should be wide. They should have an extensive vocabulary and understand colloquialisms and slang as well as knowledge of legal terminology.
They should strictly adhere to their code of ethics. In the courtroom they act as the mediators and contributors in bridging the language gap and ensuring effective communication.
They should maintain professional conduct, impartiality, confidentiality and fidelity, which are part of their code of ethics.
Because they serve as the connection between the adjudicating body, lawyers and claimants, they have the power to favor one side. Thus it is critical for the interpreter to maintain fidelity by exercising their professional, legal and moral commitment to convey the message in full, faithfully and accurately. They have to preserve the actual words delivered in the source language, without any deletion or addition. Moreover, they have to maintain all the nonverbal elements as well, including pauses and tone of voice. In some cases, the interpreter has to explain to the court other nonverbal gestures that are cultural in nature, especially if it is not possible to convey every part of the statement.
Any information disclosed during the court proceedings should remain confidential, including those mentioned orally.
Interpreters should distance themselves from people who are involved in the trial, so they can remain impartial. They are prohibited from expressing their personal judgments and opinions that may have an effect on the jury’s decision. They should be neutral at all times and focused only on their task.
Court interpreters should remain professional all the time. They should follow the legal protocol, address courtroom staff properly and sit or stand appropriately. They should appear in court on time and interpret with the right tone of voice and speed.
As a professional, they should prepare for the case adequately through research and acquiring knowledge about the case and checking up the required terminology. They should immediately inform all the parties concerned and withdraw from the court case if they are unable to effectively perform the assigned task.
Court interpreters should be advocates of continuous learning and should attend professional meetings, join workshops and constantly update their knowledge and skills.
Contact Us for Your Legal Interpreting Needs
With the complex requirements and demands for court interpreting services, you should only work with professional interpreters with the right kind of experience. Contact Day Translations, Inc. and let us discuss your requirements. You can reach us at 1-800-969-6853 or through email at Contact us. Contact us anytime, as we are open 24/7, 365 days of the year.