Legal interpretation includes a wide range of interpreting situations arising in courts as well as in non courtroom context. For example community interpreting interviews in police departments, custom offices, immigration authorities, barrister chambers and the like, are all instances of non courtroom legal interpretation. Court interpreting is just one kind of interpreting service provided by legal interpreters. It has however gained a much higher position than other forms of legal interpreting.
History of court interpreting is much shorter than other forms of interpreting as interpreting is known to be used since ancient times in Egypt. Court interpreting began during the famous war trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo, which took place in between November 1945 to October 1946 and June 1946 to November 1948 respectively. The kind of court interpreting used in these war trials is better known as simultaneous interpreting.
In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter sits in an interpreting booth, listens to the speaker through a headset and interprets into a microphone while listening. The input from microphone is transferred to the headset of delegates. Thus simultaneous interpreting happens almost instantaneously.
There are different modes of court interpreting. A legal interpreter might be asked to use consecutive interpreting when a witness is in the dock, simultaneous interpreting if the witness or accused is listening to another testimony or following other events in the court (from deposition to sentencing) or liaison interpreting, when interpreting is required outside the court with council.
Another form of simultaneous interpreting used in court interpretation is Whispered interpreting. In whispered court interpreting the interpreter does not sit in a booth but is seated in the court itself, right near the client. The Whispering interpreter will then whisper the target language version directly into the client’s ear. This kind of whispered interpreting was used in the case of The State of Israel vs. Ivan John Demjanjuk, during the years 1987 to 1988. The interpreting was done in Ukrainian language for the defendant in the case.
Court interpreting is broadly concerned with helping the client understand what is going on in the court. Sight interpreting is also required in court interpreting, especially to translate documents produced in the court. Sight interpretation refers to the oral translation of written texts. Other kind of translations often required in the court are written translations of an exhibit, a transcript of a telephone conversation or subtitling for a video recording.
Court interpreters are highly specialized type of interpreters. They should have sufficient skills in a wide variety of translation and interpreting fields which includes, consecutive interpreting, simultaneous interpreting, whispered interpreting and sight interpreting. They should be able to tackle extra linguistic pressures related to speed, interrupted delivery, stress and mental fatigue. They should also have good knowledge of the wide range of topics that can be discussed during the proceedings.
In court interpreting, all interlocutors are advised to speak in first person. The seating position of the court interpreter also plays a significant role in the communication process. Seating the interpreter too far away risks creating hearing difficulties, while seating him too close to one party creates a feeling of partiality towards the party, near whom the interpreter is seated. However just like lawyers, court interpreters are also bound by their professional ethics and should ensure impartiality at all times.
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