Legal translation may sound like a boring thing, but in the most extreme of situations it could in fact change your life and preserve your freedom. Even if you never find yourself in such a terrifying predicament, legal translation and interpreting could still be a service that you may find you have to one day call upon for other reasons. There are countless horror stories of people travelling to foreign countries for simple vacations only to wind up on the wrong side of the law. Regardless of whether these people have found themselves there deservedly or not, being able to communicate their case in their native language is often imperative to seeing that justice is done.
The lengthy case of Sandra Gregory is one of the most infamous cautionary tales of international drug trafficking. Her story of naivety, trickery and cruel treatment is just one in many; however with the release of her book coming soon after her release from prison, her story was soon shared around the world. Gregory was arrested at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok after agreeing to transport heroin to Tokyo for a man she had recently met; she was at the time suffering from dengue fever and quickly running out of money. The man she met, Robert Lock, promised to give her £1000 in return for this ‘favour’, money she could then use to get home safely to the UK. In just a few short days Gregory found herself at the mercy of the Thai Police who sentenced her to death. Her sentence was then reduced to life imprisonment and then again to 25 years.
During the years Gregory spent at Lard Yao prison, often referred to as the Bangkok Hilton, she made numerous appearances in court. In every step of her court proceedings the trial was conducted in Thai, never giving her a chance to fully express her version of events. Had she been able to speak directly to the judge and explain, then perhaps things may have gone differently. Without even fully being able to communicate with the lawyers, police and prison guards, the opportunity for error was incredibly high. Although Sandra had access to a Thai interpreter, this person only seems to have been present at the initial hearing and therefore of no continuous use in her subsequent appearances, of which there were many.
In contrast to Sandra’s epic tale of a lack of basic interpreting services, there have been some instances where this has proved a positive thing for those who find themselves in court. In 2007, two Nigerian nationals who had been accused of dealing drugs in Mumbai were acquitted, it was revealed they had been read their rights in Marathi during the arrest but could understand only English. Although a substantial amount of drugs were found, the lack of interpreters when arresting the duo meant that the defence attorney was able to successfully argue for the freedom of his clients. Loopholes like this can be found in the law far too often and it is a massive failure of the justice system when criminals are able to walk free due to poor interpreting!
A similar incident took place in an Australian courtroom last year when an interpreter was discovered to have turned the sentence “did you stop anyone moving” into the sentence “did you push anyone”. The events of the smuggling trial were being interpreted into Indonesian for the person being questioned; the error only came to light after an Indonesian member of the jury brought it to the attention of the Judge. After much further questioning of the interpreter’s ability, the Judge declared a mistrial and the case was thrown out, much to the expense of the taxpayer.
Accurate and efficient legal translation and interpreting services are not hard to find if you are looking in the right places. Many reputable companies can easily provide this kind of linguistic services, a fact that should render the occurrence of mistakes obsolete. The importance of using professional and reliable translators and interpreters can’t be stressed enough, when in a legal setting this becomes even more imperative as it can control the fate of the person in question!
Natalie Jones is a recent graduate of Creative Writing and Journalism from London Metropolitan University. She is working as an online marketing intern at Quicklingo, where she is currently discovering the complex world of SEO and Social Media Management. She has also worked as a freelance writer for a variety of online publications.
Excellent article Natalie, and one that is highly relevant at the moment in view of the fiasco involving the outsourcing of court interpreting services by the Ministry of Justice resulting in many defendants not being able to put their case properly, being detained for longer than necessary or released sooner than they would be had qualified interpreters been available.
However, I do think you need to learn the difference between a translator and interpreter. The two activities are related, but require very different skills. Translators work with written documents, interpreters with the spoken word. Although many linguists do both types of work, the term should not be used interchangeably. The linguists who are called upon to assist in a legal situation will therefore usually be interpreters and not translators. I work as a translator – I am not qualified to act as an interpreter in any field.
Sorry if my above comment sounded brusque – I meant to say “distinguish more clearly between interpreters and translators”! It’s just that this misunderstanding is something that we as linguists frequently encounter in the media. However, the fact that you have taken the time to investigate the importance of using professionals in this area of work and have drawn attention to the issue is appreciated. If you want to know more about the problem in the UK, have a look at http://www.linguistlounge.org .
Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. I have to admit that as an intern with the company I’m still not completely full of knowledge on translation / interpreting! It’s not an area I had ever intended to end up working in….but I’d like to think I’m getting there 🙂 Thanks for the link to the Linguist Lounge, looks like a great source of info!
This is just an ad for quicklingo, possibly paid for by them. The misuse of ‘translator’ struck me, as did:
‘Accurate and efficient legal translation services are not hard to find if you are looking in the right places. Any reputable company will easily be able to provide this kind of translation in any situation, a fact that should render the occurrence of mistakes obsolete.’
These services are quite hard to find!
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I can assure you that the privilege of blogging on other peoples websites, such as LinguaGreca, is certainly not something that Quick Lingo pay for. Whilst you may interpret it as an ‘advert’, I would have to disagree. I would also have to disagree with you that these services are hard to find. The translation industry seems to be continually growing with more and more professional companies offering legal translation as a standard service, it is simply the less than reputable companies causing problems and creating a negative image of the industry.
No, I didn’t think LinguaGreca paid for that, sorry for the implication. But as you are a marketing intern I would expect this to be a form of advertising. My experience of finding legal translators and interpreters is different from yours.
Hello ladies and thank you for your comments. Natalie will probably reply to them as well soon.
I am also to blame for the translation/interpreting confusion, obviously I didn’t edit the post carefully enough before publishing it. I checked those occurrences and it should be better now, let me know if I missed something.
To my mind, it looks allright now: “legal translation and interpreting services” clearly conveys the idea that translation and interpreting are two different sets of skills and services. Also, the ease of finding good professionals is qualified by “if you look in the right places” and “reputable” companies. Additionally, by underlining “The importance of using professional and reliable translators and interpreters” the idea it set to rights that only “companies” can provide these services, when there are hosts of us freelancers out there who are perfectly capable and qualified to provide high-quality services.
I did not read the article in its original and unedited form, but now it seems quite OK, no doubt thanks to your accustomed efficient. experienced and professional intervention.
Greetings, and have a nice weekend.
Thank you very much Nelida, much appreciated 🙂
Thanks for sharing:) Indeed,it takes time for customers to find out who is the best English-Chinese interpreter as well. Not all that glitters are gold, but true gold will glitter for sure.