Thursday, October 11, 2007

Courts and Courtroom Interpreters

I had to show up for jury duty again today. I was in the pool of potential jurors; not actually selected to serve on the jury. The judge and lawyers agreed on twelve people before my name was called, so I have been excused. That means that I can now freely talk about everything I saw in the courtroom.

It was a criminal trial. The defendant was a Vietnamese man in, perhaps, his 40s. He was a small and thin man, missing some teeth. He appeared to be poor. The suit jacket he wore was faded and ill-fitting. He wore headphones into which a certified interpreter said in Vietnamese all that was being said in the courtroom.

The courtroom interpreters are certified persons. They generally have met high standards to gain certification. I don’t doubt that they do a good job.

However, mistakes can be made. Just as people using only English, for example, may repeat something someone else has said and make a mistake in doing so.

So it was very interesting to me that the rules applied in court with regard to interpretation are that the jurors are supposed to take what the interpreter says as the exact interpretation of the speaker. Even if the juror knows the language being interpreted into English and she or he hears something different being said by the interpreter than what was originally said in Vietnamese, the juror is supposed to ignore what she or he has heard from “the horse’s mouth” and is supposed to only listen to the interpreter.

I assume that this is done because what the interpreter says is what gets written into the record. I guess it probably all works out O.K., but it still seems a bit strange to me. It seems that if the juror knows something was erroneously interpreted, that she or he should have a duty, in addition to a moral obligation, to report it to the judge.


1 comment:

Ivan Lezhnjov Jr. said...

That is a very interesting observation you've made! I completely agree that a juror or anyone else in the courtroom must have a right to warn about poor interpretation happening. I think both what defendant and interpreter say must be recorded and if issues were raised during the hearing and expert team assigned specifically to investigate misinterpretation could then be formed and pass the final judgement.