‘Double interpretation’ continued

In response to a comment on the previous entry, I will add some more remarks: of course, the normal British name for the process should be relay interpreting, and the American equivalent relay interpretation. The term double interpretation or double interpreting seems odd. EU note here.

bq. Interpreters use relay interpreting when the language which is spoken in the meeting room is not covered by any of the colleages in the booth.
By connecting to one of the other booths where the language in question is covered, the interpreters can translate for their customers.
Example:
In a meeting where Greek is covered in the German and the Dutch booth only, all the other booths will listen in to one of these booths (“take relay” in interpreter jargon) and be able translate into their respective mothertongues.

Of course, as was pointed out in the case itself, ‘commercial’ relay interpreting is not the same thing as relay interpreting in a criminal court.

The case transcript is interesting because it does consider all these issues and it indicates that the judges gave intelligent consideration to the problem. The situation was that an 11-year-old Bosnian Romany girl was charged with attempted pickpocketing (magistrates’ court). The magistrate was a stipendiary magistrate, i.e. a qualified lawyer sitting alone, like a German Einzelrichter – since 1999 the term has been changed to district judge. There are no qualified Bosnian Romany interpreters in the UK! There was one interpreter, Donald Kenrick, who appears to be a Romany interpreter, but not of the right dialect, and the magistrate said the trial could go ahead.

The girl (despite being unable to communicate in Esperanto, see other comment on last entry) challenged this. A challenge went to the Administrative Court, which used to be called the Divisional Court of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, the nearest England and Wales has to an administrative court system.

Here’s the case reference:
METROPOLITAN STIPENDIARY MAGISTRATE EX PARTE “J”, R v. [1999] EWHC Admin 671 (12th July, 1999)

Such applications for judicial review (that has a different meaning in England from the U.S. meaning) are in the name of the Queen (R for Regina). The neutral citation uses EWHC to mean the High Court of England and Wales.

The case against one of the co-accused was dropped for language reasons. The magistrate wrote:

bq. “The Defence contended that Romany was the only language spoken and understood by the youth. The only interpreter was one who could translate English into Serbo Croat — a language discrete from Romany. By consent … a compromise was attempted whereby the evidence was given in English and a sworn interpreter translated that into Serbo Croat to a male who came with the youth and translated the Serbo Croat into — it is said — Romany.

bq. “The result was chaotic, it was slow and noisy, no-one knew if the translation was accurate or not or whether the youth understood the proceedings. I was sitting with two experienced Youth Court Justices and the three of us quickly resolved that the proceedings were unsatisfactory, irregular and possibly unlawful.

bq. “Accordingly the trial was aborted and I set in motion an argument as to the legality of what I shall call the double translation.”

(Ah! ‘…what I shall call the double translation”)

In the present case, the interpreter said that he and the girl had 90% mutual understanding, but only 80% mutual understanding of courtroom language. The magistrate ruled that the case could go ahead.

bq. ” Conclusions
“1. Bosnian Romany is a dialect of a discrete language classical Romany.
“2. The so called double interpretation is not lawful.
“3. Translation into a second language is not lawful.
“4. In a Youth Court, if the competent authorities fail to provide an interpreter in the mother tongue of the defendant, that is prima facie a breach of Article 6(3)(e) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“5. Failure by the competent authority — here the Court — to provide an interpreter is an unfairness which is an abuse of process and would lead to a stay.
“Fortunately, I do not have to stay these proceedings as Dr Kenrick will translate. Had he or another not been available I would, as I have said, have ordered a stay.”

The court heard evidence from Rowland [sic – it should be ‘Roland’] Chesters, of the Institute of Linguists, whose evidence seems to have exerted great influence. It also considered case law. It quashed the magistrate’s decision:

bq. Let me return finally to the instant challenge. For the reasons given it is plain, and indeed agreed, that the magistrate’s order cannot stand. Accordingly, certiorari must go to quash it.

(The term certiorari has since been replaced by quashing order in England and Wales – it’s still used at the U.S. Supreme Court, of course).

The court did not go further – it did not order the proceedings to be abandoned, although it commented that their future was somewhat doubtful. The remarks about the lawfulness of ‘double interpretation’ were obiter dicta, that is, not part of the decision and not binding, but reflecting how the court might decide in future in a similar case.

The case is worth reading. This summary is to point out why the court thought relay interpreting was the best of a bad bunch. It doesn’t alter the fact that there are still, presumably, no competent Bosnian Romany interpreters in the country.

Finally, a note on Donald Kenrick (and Google reveals a number of other interesting sites):

bq. Donald Kenrick took a first-class honours degree in Arabic from London University, followed by a Master’s on the image of the Jew in Scandinavian literature, for which he was required to master all the nordic languages as well as Hebrew and Yiddish.
An enthusiast for the rights of small language groups, he was at one time active in the Cornish revivalist movement. An enthusiasm for Bulgarian folkdance led him to a job teaching in Bulgaria, where he came into contact with the Romani language, eventually completing a PhD on the Drindari dialect.
He has made a lasting contribution to Romani linguistics and was the first secretary of the WRC Language Commission in 1971. He also wrote with Gratton Puxon the first full-length study of the Romani holocaust, and served for a while as secretary of the early Gypsy Council. Later he worked voluntarily for the National Gypsy Education Council, and the Romany Guild.

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