Legal and court interpreting requires a special combination of superior interpreting skills and legal knowledge. Getting the details of a court procedure or other legal proceeding correct is difficult, but also essential. An incorrect interpretation can mean the difference between life and death, or at least life and life-in-prison.
A case in Sweden has proven just how true this is. An interpreter in Norrköping, near Stockholm, lost his license after it was revealed that he made several substantial court interpreting errors while working a trial – and not just any trial, a murder trial!
Once Sweden’s Kammarkollegiet (the country’s Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency) discovered the extent of the interpreter’s errors, they subsequently stripped him of his license.
The Dangers of Court Interpreting Gone Wrong
What makes the Norrköping case especially scary is the fact that the man, a South Kurdish–Swedish translator and interpreter, was by all appearances was a fully qualified professional, equipped with the necessary skills to handle the job in question.
The Kammarkollegiet had authorized him as an interpreter in 2004, and he had published numerous literary translations as well as a Kurdish–Swedish dictionary specifically focused on legal terms. What’s more, he also worked as a tutor teaching other legal interpreters.
More than five years after receiving his certification, the interpreter’s abilities were officially called into question. In late 2009, an anonymous notice was sent to the Kammarkollegiet. After reviewing tapes of the Norrköping trial, the agency concluded that, among other mistakes, he had made several errors in syntax and Swedish idioms, had omitted details, and had even added material of his own.
If You Need a Court Interpreter
If you find yourself in need of legal interpreting services, there are steps you can take to help you avoid the same outcome as the Norrköping case.
To begin with, make sure you go to a reputable interpreter or agency with legal interpreting experience — the nuances of language in a court case demand familiarity not only with the languages, but also with legal terminology.
There are also retroactive steps you can take. If you have any doubts about the accuracy of court interpreting services, you can arrange to have the proceedings translated by a qualified professional. In this way, you can maintain oversight of the interpreted testimony, and raise any resulting concerns with your attorney.
No Room for Mistakes in Legal Interpreting
The Norrköping case is an excellent example of the dangers that come with incorrect legal interpreting or court interpreting. Of course, following the discovery of the poor court interpreting, many people asked whether the murder trial should be conducted again. Bad legal interpreting can negatively affect the people directly involved in a legal proceeding as well as undermine the legal system itself.
A few bad cases of mistaken legal interpreting also threaten the reputation of professional legal and court interpreters as a whole. The case attracted a significant amount of attention from the media at the time and many voiced concerns as to how such an incident could ever be permitted to happen.
The man in question explained that he was going through difficult family issues at the time of the Norrköping trial and therefore was unable to give it his full attention. While this may be true, the bottom line is that there is no room for mistakes in legal and court interpreting.
If an interpreter truly does not feel equal to the task of performing a courtroom interpretation, he or she should petition the court to find a replacement, rather than jeopardize the validity of the proceedings. Court interpreting is not just any old job; it’s a job that can seriously affect other people’s futures.