Problems with the System
Linguists specialized in court interpreting often blame the recruitment process, which is not based on a list of properly accredited interpreters who have proven to know enough of the language and the interpreting field to successfully undertake such a complex task. So far, the judiciary has refused to implement a nation-wide accreditation system which would ensure the quality of the professional linguists. However, a big impediment to the creation of such a system lies on economic reasons and the belief that the problem affects only a small sector of the population (foreign speakers, primarily of rare languages).
A second problem involves the insufficient remuneration of court interpreters, especially when compared to the market prices of interpreting in other fields. Fees can even be sometimes as low as one tenth of the market rates. To make matters worse, judges who fail to understand the complexity of the interpreting process get anxious and impatient with the interpretation of questions and responses.
Generally, Chinese-English interpreting services are properly managed – it is in the interpreting of more rare or smaller languages that the system seems to fail more often. According to Ester Leung Sin-man, part of the Multilingual Interpreters and Translators Association, ethnic-minority languages represent the biggest challenges. Leung, an interpreters’ trainer herself, voiced her doubts about the judiciary’s process through which interpreters are recruited. She added that candidates were sometimes tested by individuals who did not speak the language which was being assessed.
As a solution to the problem of the lack of interpreters for rather obscure languages, Leung proposes the government makes use of the advances in the technology field. In this way, the Hong Kong’s judiciary system could make use of the services offered by accredited court interpreters dwelling and working overseas by means of videoconferencing or over-the-phone interpreting.
Examples of Failure
Examples of court problems stemming from flaws in court interpreting are varied, including a case in August, when the High Court has to nullify the conviction of a man who had been accused of making bombs due to inaccuracies in the interpreting service. Other cases are related to the lack of translation of the word “appeal” into Punjabi a language spoken by the Punjabi people in Pakistan and India. In 2010, a murder trial involving a Mongolian speaker had to be postponed when the interpreter failed to show up to the trial.