Do court interpreters need to understand the legal proceeding they are interpreting?
May 13, 2013 § 8 Comments
Many times during my career when working as a court interpreter I have been told by some colleagues that they do not enjoy court hearings where attorneys argue the law. They say they much prefer to interpret witness testimony because the hearing is about the facts of the case and not about the law. More than once, when I have asked a court interpreter what was the hearing she just finished about, the answer has been: “I don’t know, legal things, boring stuff.” Some others have told me that it was “…lawyers arguing…and I didn’t understand…”
I have always approached my work with the idea that you cannot interpret what you do not understand. To me it seems impossible to do a good job when you cannot interpret in context, when you do not know where the speaker is taking the argument to. I understand that not all court interpreters went to law school and some of the issues litigated in court are difficult to understand even for lawyers and judges. I am also aware of that “blank” our mind seems to produce after we finish working. In fact, for my own sanity I am glad it happens. “In one ear…out the other…”
This is not what I am referring to in this posting. I am talking about the minimal legal knowledge a court interpreter needs to have to do a good job. I also know for a fact, because I have a law degree, that the more you understand the proceedings, the better your rendition, because you will be able to follow the trend of thought, to anticipate the speaker’s next move, and to employ the correct terminology and vocabulary. I believe that court interpreters should at least know as much about the law as a paralegal. We need to understand the issues to be litigated in a motions hearing so we can do a good rendition. We also need to understand the process during that hearing; we need to know what is allowed and what is not. Court interpreters should do their homework and prepare for a trial or hearing, but on top of that they should know rules of evidence and rules of criminal and civil procedure. It is easier to interpret a trial when you actually know why the attorney is objecting to a question and how he is objecting to it. In my experience it is this type of knowledge that lets you develop a strong relationship with the big law firms, with the key players in the legal world. Court interpreting is as much a part of that world as it is of the world of linguistics. Unfortunately, some colleagues do not seem to realize it
It is for this reason that during the NAJIT Annual Conference in St. Louis Missouri I will be presenting in Spanish: “Evidence. A comparative Study between Mexico and the United States.” During the presentation I will walk those attending trough the evidentiary process in the legal system of the two countries where the people we more often interpret for either live or come from. We will cover topics such as discovery, admissible and inadmissible evidence, types of objections, exceptions to the hearsay rule, different burdens of proof, judicial notice, best evidence rule, and many more. I invite you to attend the presentation on Sunday, May 19 at 11:00 am during the NAJIT conference in St. Louis. I hope to see you there, but even if you are not able to attend, please tell us if you believe that court interpreters should know the basics of the law, and specifically procedural law.