FuzzyLaw Mini-article

17 Jul 2013

FuzzyLaw and interpreter practice

I’ve just read some of the explanations of legal terms by members of the public on FuzzyLaw and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

I am a full time freelance French Interpreter and Translator but also happen to be a qualified Solicitor – albeit non – practising these days. From time to time I also run interactive legal terminology workshops for interpreters and translators and proof read legal translations for colleagues.

I say that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because the kind of explanations given on the FuzzyLaw site by members of the public echo those that I hear colleagues giving in my workshops (or more worryingly) when I am out and about interpreting in Courts etc. Of course interpreters are also members of the public and it is rare for any of them to have had any formal legal training whatsoever so if they have only vague – or even wrong comprehension as to various legal terms, it is not surprising. Certainly it is not their fault and perhaps there is a case for some sort of compulsory legal training provided by qualified lawyers prior to letting them loose in Courts and Police Stations (as well as ongoing CPD in this area too as legal terminology can change fast with the drop of a hat ie in family law “access “ is now “contact” and “custody “ is now “residence” and whilst an interpreter using the old terminology would be understood, her/ his outdated terminology will indicate to other professionals that s/he is not au fait with current law. Perhaps there is even a case for only allowing qualified lawyers to become legal interpreters?

Of even more concern is where there is no knowledge at all – for example, it is not uncommon for me to be approached by colleague interpreters in Court waiting rooms with questions such as “Sue, what is a Pre Trial Review? “ Obviously without first comprehending the term within the context of the legal system in England and Wales, there is no way that interpreters are going to be able to provide a precise interpretation to the client. Unfortunately, what some interpreters do is guess! Yes, that’s right – they guess in order to keep the dialogue flowing in Court Hearings etc. Most will bank on the client having little or no command of the English language and/or legal system or being too frightened to be able to air a complaint to the Judge if they do realise what the Interpreter is doing.

At the end of the day, as always, it is the client who suffers most if the Interpreter messes up so if “legal” interpreters are being solely trained by non – lawyers ie members of the public and are then working in the legal sphere with no formal legal training (none is compulsory in the UK for Interpreters ) and if the Judge, Magistrate doesn’t understand German, Farsi etc and the Interpreter interprets to the Court that there was a burglary when in fact the specific offence was a lesser one of theft by shoplifting, sentencing and other effects will flow erroneously from now on .

The last example shows a possibly “fuzzy” understanding of this area of law – but, it’s more than that – it’s frightening that this sort of thing is going on in Courts and other legal venues in numerous languages every day of the week up and down the length of the UK.

Sue Leschen

Solicitor (non – practising): LL B: BA; DPSI; NRPSI MCIoL; MITI; APCI; NWTN

16th July 2013


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