The demographics of court interpreting for rarer languages

courtinterpBack in March, I published a post about a program in Maine, USA aimed at recruiting and training court interpreters for the purposes of supporting diversity and migrant needs, in particular fulfilling an increased demand for Somali interpreters.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across¹ a case involving a witness speaking a Tanzanian dialect of Swahili, where first a Rwandan, and then a Kenyan had been called in to interpret, with apparently unsatisfactory results on both occasions.

The case, taking place in the British Colombian Supreme Court, involves a woman accused of human trafficking, who risks being fined up to $1 million and life imprisonment.

The alleged victim, on the other hand, a poorly educated housemaid facing her former employer, a wealthy and powerful businesswoman, in a foreign court, is staking her credibility in appearing for the government prosecutors.

At one point, apparently, the judge considered initiating proceedings with a 10-minute “test-run” of a new interpreter. As far as I can ascertain, Justice Fenlon then called a halt and asked the lawyers to try to find a Swahili-speaking Tanzanian who is either a court-accredited interpreter or someone who has no connection to either the accused or the complainant and is agreeable to both parties.

As of today, and according to the hearing lists, the case was still in progress.

Do write in with any comments you have about the thorny problem that arises when a qualified interpreter just isn’t available. What do you think should be done?.


¹ The Vancouver Sun, Lost in translation: A trial halts while lawyers search for an acceptable interpreter, September 13, 2013.

Credit: Many thanks to Kit Johnson, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma for permission to use her photograph.

One thought on “The demographics of court interpreting for rarer languages

  1. Pingback: Call for papers – Justice & minorized languages | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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