Double interpretation case

A 2000 QBD case involved the question of double interpretation, that is, interpretation from English to Bosnian Romany by way of Serbo-Croat (if that’s still its name). Here is the complete summary from David Swarbrick’s superb site:

bq. Regina -v- West London Youth Court, Ex P J – QBD – 02 August 1999 – Criminal Practice
lip – When absolutely necessary, it was permissible for a court to allow and depend upon double translation for a defendant. A court offered either double translation or a translator who felt 80 per cent adequate in the language of the defendant. A translator must be impartial (never the appropriate adult), and qualified and fluent. The standards required at interview were also required at trial. There must be a natural understanding between the accused and his interpreter, and the next and the court.
[02 August 1999 – Times ]

The case itself is online at BAILII, the first portal to search for English law, but I found it easier to find by Google than at the BAILII site.

bq. 4. The possibility, therefore, arises of a process known as “double translation”: interpretation from one language into a second language, and then from the second language into a third language. The magistrate ruled that double interpretation can never be lawful. We are told other tribunals, from time to time, have ruled differently; views are divided. This question is, therefore, one of some general and growing importance and both sides invite the court to take this opportunity to provide guidance.
5. I recognise, of course, that such views we express will necessarily be obiter. Nevertheless, given that we have enjoyed the luxury of research and submission by two leading counsel on what is now an uncontested challenge, it would seem churlish to decline the invitation. I hope our observations may provide some assistance in the future.

Churlish indeed!

I’ve normally heard this process in writing called relay translation (e.g. getting a translation from Maltese to Latvian by way of English, for example).

The tip on the case came from Peter Tiersma – thanks to him. And look at Peter’s website on language and law and his book on legal language.


2 thoughts on “Double interpretation case

  1. On the article: Translating is EU’s new boom industry, it’s such a shame that the Esperanto shop on Holland Park Road in West London has been forced to close when it should have been expanding. When walking past, I rarely saw a visitor inside.

    The shop also used to be consigned a quarter of a century ago to a token stand at the Kensington Olympia Mystics & Occult Fair – maybe to denote the obscure and minority nature of an artificial language that is supposed to be ‘fossilised’ and ‘incapable of progression’.

    Just think of the EU translation and interpreting bill Esperanto would save as a single working EU language and the terrible burden of work of which it would relieve us translators tired of hearing ‘the French would never allow English/ would never allow German/ would never allow Italian/ Spanish lingusitic ascendancy etc. etc.’

  2. “Double translation” is indeed a misnomer. For starters, this is interpretation, not translation.

    The proper term is “relay interpretation” (and nothing else!).

    Then again, relay interpretation is not real interpreting either; it’s more like a game of Chinese whispers. As a professional, I stay away from relay interpreting, which in my view is completely unprofessional.

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