When Court Interpreting Goes Wrong

Posted on 01 Apr 2014

When Court Interpreting Goes Wrong

“Where the question of the competence of an interpreter is raised, the hearing should be adjourned.” The Crown Prosecution Service.


Definition of an interpreter

An interpreter listens to the spoken word and converts it from a source language to a target language. It should keep the same expression and meaning. A translator converts the written word in the source language into the written word in the target language.

When it goes wrong

Recently in the news there has been a case of a rape trial in Craigavon Crown Court which had to be stopped because concerns were raised that an interpreter was giving unreliable and inaccurate translations. The court case, which involved two Lithuanian men, was abandoned after the judge said it was irreparably compromised. The cost to taxpayers for the aborted court case was £30,000.


So what makes a reliable court interpreter?

“The only valid witness as to what the defendant said is the interpreter. (Archbold 4-36). It is therefore important that the interpreter is a person who is suitably qualified and impartial.”

Crown Prosecution Service

Only use a company that has registered court interpreters – court interpreters should be registered with National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).

Interpreters should have had experience of working within a courtroom environment as this is very different from other situations.

A professional interpreter will deal calmly with stresses, strains and limitations of a court room. A witness or defendant may be nervous and unfamiliar to public speaking and our court interpreters must remain impartial and confidential in these situations.

Ensure the interpreter is familiar with the cultural issues, expressions and business etiquette for the case. Slight nuances can make the difference between accurate or inaccurate translations.

An interpreter should carry themselves in a professional manner at all times.

And finally … a good interpreter can be the difference between winning or losing. When justice and truth are involved then clients deserve to have experienced and qualified interpreters by their side.


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