Christine Springer, President of the Austrian Association of Court Interpreters
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important occasion, the foundation of the European Legal Interpreters and Translators Association.
I will give you a brief overview of the Austrian situation of court interpreters, which I think is unique in Europe, if not internationally.
Since the year 1975 we have had a special law on expert witnesses and court interpreters, the so-called „Sachverständigen- und Dolmetschergesetz” (SDG) which is linked to the “Gebührenanspruchsgesetz” (GebAG = law on court fees), in the version of the “Berufsrechtsänderungsgesetz” (BRÄG = law amending professional rules and regulations), elaborated in collaboration with the Austrian Association of Court Interpreters whose president I have the honour to be since 1981.
Apart the general legislative basis (such as the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Austrian Penal Code and Civil Code) this law regulates the general and special conditions for being admitted as court interpreter, and for the payment of court interpreters (GebAG).
One should not forget that the Austrian Code of Penal Procedure of 1803 (150 years before the European Convention on Human Rights) was already a regulation that made it mandatory to provide interpreting services to people who didn’t know the German language (which is the official language in Austrian courts).
So, what are the special features of this law?
It contains general provision such as legal capacity, legal residence in Austria (unlike expert witnesses, Austrian citizenship is not a prerequisite for court interpreters), physical and intellectual aptitude, a clean criminal record, moral integrity, a normal economic and financial situation (no bankruptcy or business failure), and – obviously – the suitable equipment to exercise the profession (such as dictionaries, computer and other electronic devices).
Then there are special provisions which relate to the examination you have to take and pass, as well as the proof of your professional experience as interpreter and translator before you are admitted to the examination.
These prerequisites are mandatory for all candidates and required throughout Austria.
What is still more important is the fact that the president of the competent regional court who is responsible for the admission and registration of court interpreters has to follow the decision of the examination board so that a candidate can be registered as certified court interpreter if she/he has passed the examination.
So, everybody who wishes to become a certified court interpreter must, first of all, submit his/her application to the president of the regional court of the district in which the candidate is domiciled, indicating the language(s) in which the candidate wishes to be certified.
The president examines if the general prerequisites are fulfilled and then sends the application to the examination board.
The board verifies if the prerequisite of professional experience has been fulfilled. (Persons who have a university degree in interpreting and translation must give proof of two-years of professional experience; other candidates must document a professional experience of five years. They can prove their experience by presenting certificates issued by their clients.
If this formal aspect is fulfilled, the candidate is invited to sit for the examination.
The examination takes place in Vienna (for candidates from all parts of Austria). The examination board consists of a judge (who presides over the examination) and two examiners who are court interpreters for the candidate’s language combination.
In the course of the examination the candidate must give proof of his/her linguistic competence, of his/her basic knowledge of the Austrian legal system as well as that of the foreign country, of legal, technical and medical terminology, and of his/her interpreting and translation skills.
This is done in written and oral form, the oral form including a simulated consecutive interpretation in a legal setting (for example, the hearing of a witness, the interrogation of an accused).
At the end of the examination, which lasts for about 1.5 hours, the board deliberates the candidate’s performance, and the candidate is told the result of the examination. If he/she has passed the examination, the competent court president will enter him/her in the register of certified court interpreters (which is managed electronically nowadays).
If the candidate fails the examination, he/she is informed of the reasons and advised on what to do to improve his/her skills.
Usually, the board recommends a minimum time frame before a candidate should again submit an application.
There is no limit on the number of times one can repeat the examination. So far, candidates have taken the examination a maximum number of three times.
After having been entered in the register of certified court interpreters, the court interpreter receives an electronic ID-card, as well as a seal – see picture – and must deposit his/her signature and a copy of the seal with the court where he/she has been registered.
The first-time certification is for five years; then you must file another application for the renewal of your certification for a further 5 years, and so on. In this re-application you must list the court-file numbers of the proceedings that you have interpreted or for which you produced translations, as well as – and this is a new feature – you must also indicate your continuous professional training.
The title of certified court interpreters is “Allgemein beeideter und gerichtlich zertifizierter Dolmetscher” (generally sworn and court-certified interpreter). This means that you are qualified to interpret/translate in all types of proceedings.
The certification ends when the period of certification expires, when the interpreter resigns or when the interpreter is struck from the register.
There is no legal title to obtaining court-certification; if the court president strikes an interpreter from the register, the court interpreter may appeal the decision to the regional court.
The title “Allgemein beeideter und gerichtlich zertifizierter Dolmetscher” (generally sworn and court-certified interpreter) is protected by law. When the last was last amended, a fine was stipulated for cases where somebody uses the title or a seal without being registered as a court interpreter. That fine can amount to EUR 10,000. Penal proceedings may also be lodged against persons who deceive others about their qualifications.
In this manner we have reached a high level of professionalism for court interpreters in Austria, and I think that our laws and regulations can serve as an example for other countries – as was the case in the Netherlands, for example – which have not yet introduced legal provisions for court interpreters.
Thank you for your attention!