Can domestic courts learn from international courts and tribunals about good practice court interpreting?
Home Can domestic courts learn from international courts and tribunals about good practice court interpreting?
Ludmila Stern, University of New South Wales
The requirements for interpreter-mediated courtroom communication have sky-rocketed in recent years. This is due both to the creation of new international criminal courts and tribunals (ICTY, ICTR, ICC, Special Court for Sierra Leone, ECCC), and the increasing number of refugees in domestic courts throughout the world. In domestic courts, problems of interpreter-mediated communication are common and are blamed on substandard interpreting quality. This situation compromises the administration of justice, and the need to improve interpreting quality has been voiced in both journalistic and academic literature. However, unless a court case happens to gain international attention, for example in war crimes or terrorism trials, these problems are not adequately dealt with, even when they result in communication breakdown between the judiciary and counsel, on the one hand, and witnesses, on the other. In a number of prominent cases (Demjaniuk,1989) and the Australian War Crimes Prosecutions (1989-1993) bilingual and multilingual communication problems led to the court’s inability to reach a conviction (Morris, Shlesinger, Stern).
In contrast, there has been no systematic criticism of interpreting in the international criminal courts and tribunals (the Nuremberg Tribunal, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia), this despite the added complexity of the mixed jurisdiction, the use of simultaneous interpreting mode, and several working languages (Gaiba, Stern).
How have international courts and tribunals (eg., The Nuremberg Tribunal, ICTY, ICTY) tackled these challenges and achieved quality interpreting? This paper will examine those factors that have ensured successful multilingual communication, seeking its roots in the experience of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal (1945-46) (Hof, Mikulin) and modern international trials that owe much to this first international tribunal. Studies and recent interviews conducted with ICTY and ICC interpreter administrators, interpreters and interpreter users — judiciary and counsel — reveal rigorous standards of interpreter selection, evidence of pre-employment and in-house training, quality infrastructure of language services and interpreters’ working conditions, safety nets and quality control, and awareness of working with interpreters on the part of interpreter users (Hof, Stern).
Despite governments’ failure to demonstrate commitment to ensuring quality interpreting in domestic courts, the chronic shortage of funding and a lack of adequate court interpreter training and education of interpreter users and administrators, there is much that domestic courts can learn from the lessons of international courts in order to ensure quality interpreting practices.