Gerichtssaal_o

Court interpreting: challenges and required competencies

19.07.2022

When you hear the term ‘court interpreting’, you might initially think of the Nuremberg Trials. This well-known war crimes trial, which took place from 1945 to 1946 after World War II, is considered the birth of simultaneous interpreting. To this day, some hearings are still translated simultaneously by several interpreters.

In criminal proceedings or at administrative, labour or tenancy courts, however, court interpreting takes on a different, hybrid form.

Interpreting for defendants

Usually, the defendants know what they are charged with and what is more or less in store for them on the day of the trial. But since the trial is held in a language they don’t know but still have to follow, the interpreter whispers the spoken word simultaneously into their ears, so that the duration of the trial is not prolonged.

Interpreting for the court

The statements of accused persons, witnesses and respondents, on the other hand, are interpreted consecutively. This means that what is being said is translated into the other language with a time delay – and in shorter sections, so that nothing is lost in terms of content.

But it is not only the hybrid interpreting style that makes court interpreting special.

What makes court interpreting so special?

As you can imagine, every word carries weight in court. After all, it can make the difference between whether someone is punished for a criminal offence or acquitted. An incorrect interpretation can have far-reaching consequences. It is therefore essential that all content is rendered 100% correctly and that nothing is added, (mis)interpreted or omitted. The pressure on interpreters in such a scenario should not be underestimated.

The setting also plays an important role. A courtroom with lawyers, judges and jurors can be overwhelming – after all, you don’t sit in a courtroom every day.

Last but not least, the emotional aspect is also relevant. While other interpreting assignments may involve training sessions being held, products being presented or company figures being discussed, in a court hearing a person’s future is at stake. This can put additional emotional pressure on everyone involved.

In order to cope with all these aspects, court interpreters need to have extensive knowledge and specific skills.

What are the requirements for being a court interpreter?

In addition to having a degree in interpreting or successfully completing their interpreter training, court interpreters must also have other special skills to be able and allowed to accept such assignments.

  1. Subject area

Court interpreters specialise in the legal field, know the legal and the official language inside out, and are familiar with the legal system of the countries whose languages they speak. Since, due to official secrecy, legal interpreters rarely receive material for preparation, possessing this technical and linguistic knowledge becomes even more decisive.

  1. Language requirements

Of course, court interpreters speak the language of the court as well as the language of the defendant and also know various dialects. In addition, they must be able to switch between social language levels (‘registers’).

  1. Types of interpreting

In addition to the types of whispered and consecutive interpreting already mentioned above, court interpreters are proficient in so-called impromptu translation, which involves previously unknown evidence being translated impromptu during the hearing. In fact, when serving during police interrogations or hearings at public prosecutor’s offices, court interpreters are legally required to verbally retranslate the entire interrogation record (minutes of the hearing) by means of impromptu translation. This is another skill they must acquire during their professional training or studies and must refine in practice.

  1. Professional ethics and etiquette

Especially in court, professional ethics play an important role. Court interpreters maintain distance and neutrality towards all parties involved, even though defendants often see interpreters as a person of trust and expect partiality and support from them. Furthermore, they do not give advice or make comments, show emotion or answer questions from the parties to the proceedings.

Rules of etiquette must also be observed in court: for example, court interpreters only speak when asked to do so by the court. If misunderstandings arise due to language, court interpreters also know how to point them out in the right way.

  1. Accreditation

Finally, interpreters must be accredited by a court in order to be able to work as court interpreters in Zurich and in other Swiss cantons.

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Source: Tingey Injury Law Firm – Unsplash

The path to becoming an accredited interpreter in Zurich

The ‘Zentralstelle Sprachdienstleistungen’ (Cantonal Central Office for Language Services) is responsible for the accreditation of interpreters in the Canton of Zurich. It also issues regulations and guidelines, for example, as well as planning and organising further training and monitoring compliance with the ‘Sprachdienstleistungsverordnung’ (Language Services Ordinance).

To be accredited as a court interpreter, interpreters must meet the following requirements:

  • Be proficient in the official language as well as the working language
  • Have good general knowledge and a sound basic legal vocabulary
  • Have a professional understanding of their role
  • Be of good repute

To determine all this, interpreters must complete a course and pass an examination.

Expert in interpreting in a legal context

As a renowned language service provider in Switzerland, CB Multilingual has many years of experience in the translation and interpreting sector, serving as a competent and reliable partner for interpreting in a legal context or for court interpreting. Not only do we work with accredited and highly qualified interpreters in Zurich and throughout Switzerland, but we also have an experienced expert in our ranks ourselves: our managing director, Silvia Cerrella Bauer, has already been accredited since 2013 and can look back on several hundred interpreting assignments with authorities such as the police, public prosecutors’ offices, district courts and the High Court of the Canton of Zurich. As a court interpreter, she still accompanies hearings, interrogations and interviews in civil and criminal matters in her working languages of English, French, Spanish and Italian.

In addition to interpreting in legal matters, CB Multilingual, its experienced legal translators and Silvia Cerrella Bauer herself take care of translating requests for legal assistance, police reports, court decisions and much more.

So if you need assistance in this area, please feel free to contact us. We know exactly how to help you.