The concept of court interpreters flourishes slowly throughout Ohio in the last decade. What with the guidance of Bruno Romero and the Ohio Supreme Court, judges and court personnel realize the importance of certified and qualified court interpreters to provide due process. This leads me to expound on client education, an integral component of this career path.
Assuredly courts balloon with cases and expenses in the drive to assure justice for all. As a court interpreter often times I need to explain to busy bailiffs why a second interpreter is needed for trials or hearing that extend beyond two hours. Luckily the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators provides Position Papers to help support my plea at http://www.najit.org. I look more the professional when presenting evidence, although not a lawyer.
According to Holly Mikkelson, “The goal of court interpreting is to produce a legal equivalent (Gonzalez, 1989C), or a linguistically true and legally appropriate interpretation of statements spoken or read in court, from the second language into English or vice versa.” This task requires enormous concentration. Some say over 21 brain functions take place or, as many as a brain surgeon, at one time. Imagine carrying out such work for over thirty minutes in a noisy court room with shuffling papers, angry defendants and lawyers who rattle off dense and complicated sentences at over one hundred and twenty words a minute. Interpreters face the challenge to move seamlessly between two languages so as not to appear obvious or clog the system.
Whenever a court requests services for a trial, the next word out of my mouth is “Who is the other interpreter?” A blank look of disbelief usually follows. At that point I launch into an explanation of maintaining accuracy for the record and impediments to compliance that are the part and parcel of the NAJIT Code of Ethics. Court interpreters faithfully move between languages without omissions and must notify the Court when s/he is unable to comply fully with the Canons of that Code when fatigue sets in. After thirty minutes I’m both physically and mentally spent in addition to perhaps emotionally exhausted. For example, after a long trial and the rape victim wishes to make a statement before the accused, she may recount that terrifying evening in great detail, break into tears, pause, sob and even shout. All must be interpreted for the record.
Again NAJIT helps clarify the need for team interpreting: “Team interpreting is a quality control mechanism, implemented to preserve the accuracy of the interpretation process in any circumstances.” What better standard than a device to assure all parties gain access to justice? The key point is accuracy. If an interpreter has slogged through almost an hour of intense witness testimony in the consecutive mode, how can s/he guarantee every word has been interpreted? I posit s/he can’t.
I encourage interpreters to speak out in defense of team interpreting when an assignment lasts more than two hours or a trial appears on the Court’s docket. Know that you’ll encounter resistance as local communities struggle to meet budget constraints daily and one interpreter, let alone two, may be viewed as another vexation. Mind you, this is not a criticism of court personnel. After 16 years in the field, bailiffs, attorneys and police treat me with the utmost respect, as I do them.
I worked as a team interpreter last year and all were concerned how the interpreters would slow down the trial. At the end the judge and attorneys pointedly commented that “you didn’t impede the process at all.” Those words serve as music to the ears and a further reason to employ more than one interpreter. Our job is to educate court personnel for the need to see justice is served, be the defendant a native English speaker or someone whose tongue is otherwise. This is not advocating on behalf of the LEP, but to assure the interpreter can comply with a code of ethics, a constant walk on the tightrope.
John P. Shaklee
OH/TN State Certified Court Interpreter
González, Roseann D., Victoria F. Vásquez and Holly Mikkelson. Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1991.
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators. Team Interpreting In the Courtroom. Seattle: http://www.najit.org., 2007.