Court interpreters are sometimes taken for granted, even though they have an extremely important job. A fair trial must include the right to interpretation and translation.
Most Americans probably imagine that in other countries, court interpreters are just as available, qualified, and required as they are in the US.
This is true in many places: in European Union (EU) countries, the quality of translation and interpretation must be sufficient to allow the persons concerned to understand the case against them and to exercise the right of defense.
However, there are some jurisdictions, even within the EU, where these standards aren’t always upheld.
Court Interpreters in Spain
While regulations vary by state within the US, a court interpreter is often required to at least pass a test of sorts before being allowed to participate in court proceedings. Interestingly, thanks to a law passed in 2000, this is not the case in Spain.
According to Maria Isabel Del Pozo Triviño, of the University of Vigo, the current legal regime in Spain effectively means that “anyone” can be an interpreter. Perhaps this very relaxed standard reflects Spain’s history as a country of emigration (rather than immigration).
In recent years, increased linguistic diversity in Spain has brought renewed calls for more stringent guidelines for court interpreters.
This past May, Del Pozo Triviño spoke at the conference Law Language and Professional Practice in Caserta, Italy. Her presentation discussed the need to improve these laws regarding court interpreters. She contended that current laws were especially problematic in cases of phone tapping, where non-professionals unbound by codes of ethics provided translations.
What’s more, the Spanish legal custom of giving the defendant an “invitation to say the last word” often goes unused. Unfortunately, defendants who do not speak Spanish may not properly understand their own trials.
St. Lucia Court Interpreters
The Caribbean island St. Lucia does not use sworn or certified court interpreters. R. Sandra Evans of The University of the West Indies discussed this in her presentation entitled “We do it ourselves”: Interpreting in the Pre-Court Phases of the Legal System in St. Lucia.
Evans said that while the official language of St. Lucia is English, many natives only speak Kwéyòl; a hybrid of French and Creole that is not intelligible with French nor English.
This creates a gap in legal proceedings, which is filled in an unusual way. In all official procedures, in lieu of a court interpreter, regular police officers interpret for Kwéyòl speakers.
In fact, other roles in the court system are filled by the police force; sergeants also act as prosecutors in the magistrate’s court, where, when required by the judge, interpreting is carried out by the clerk of the court.
The lack of professional interpretation in these proceedings is troubling. Inadequate interpreting could lead to incorrect convictions and many misunderstandings. Professional-standard court interpreters are an essential element of a fair legal system.
How LLS Can Help
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