Court interpreters as spies/Gerichtsdolmetscher als Spione

1. Werner Siebers, the criminal defence lawyer, reports in his blog that the public prosecutor’s department in Kassel wants to prescribe what court interpreter he uses on a first visit to a potential client in prison. He is concerned that the public prosecutors may be using an interpreter to report back to them on conversations between defendant and defence counsel.

Wenn ein Dolmetscher vereidigt ist, werde ich ganz sicher nicht zulassen, dass mir die Staatsanwaltschaft dazwischenfunkt. So verkniffen, wie die Staatsanwaltschaft die Sache angeht, werde ich das jetzt auch sehen.

Die wollen vielleicht einen Dolmetscher “einschleusen”, der dann brühwarm berichtet, was mir der Beschuldigte erzählt hat. Das fehlt mir noch.

2. Carsten Hoenig takes up the topic in Verraeter-Dolmetscher (excuse English keyboard). He comments that some interpreters may be prepared to act as the prosecution’s ears, but this is rare. But he reports on a situation he experienced. There were five defendants in a case, all speakers of a rare language, and each by law should be represented by a different interpreter. On the way to prison, the interpreter said he’d already interpreted for two of the other Ds and had been there at the first police questioning. Hoenig then did not question the D on important matters. On the way back, the interpreter reported numerous details of the private conversations with the other defendants – perhaps not dangerous in this case, but all the defense counsel decided not to use this interpreter again.

Auf dem Rückweg aus dem Besuchertrakt der Untersuchungshaftanstalt berichtete mir der Dolmetscher freimütig einige Details aus den Gesprächen der anderen Verteidiger mit ihren jeweiligen Mandanten. Es war nicht Wildes dabei; aber allein der Umstand, daß der Dolmetscher überhaupt solche Geheimnisse mit Dritten – also mit mir – teilte, war für mich – und dann auch für die Berliner Strafverteidiger – Anlaß genug, uns für die weiteren Mandanten-Gespräche nach anderen professionell arbeitenden Dolmetschern umzuschauen.

Hoenig adds an account to show that nearly all interpreters are reliable.

3. Here’s a report from Austria – in German – on a situation similar to the ALS problem in the UK: Dolmetsch-Misere in Traiskirchen (thanks to Brigitte for that).

Interpreter’s oath/Dolmetschereid

Here’s a curious question from an ITI member. This is the interpreter’s oath, which is taken by all interpreters in courts in England:

I swear by Almighty God that I will well and faithfully interpret and make true explanation of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to the best of my skill and understanding.

Gosh – haven’t they modernized that one?

The colleague thinks that ‘to the best of my skill’ is wrong and should be ‘to the best of my skills’, because ‘best’ is a superlative adjective and it implies comparison between at least two objects (actually, as a superlative, it would have to be three, because ‘better’ applies to two). He wants it changed.

I can’t see this at all. I am familiar with the legalese expression ‘to the best of my knowledge’ and ‘to the best of my ability’. These are uncountables, as are ‘skill’ and ‘understanding’ in the oath. ‘Skill’ can be countable too – a good source for information on countable and uncountable meanings is the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, which is now online. Now if ‘skill’ should be plural, then ‘understanding’ must be wrong too – which it isn’t! I think both ‘to the best of my skill’ and ‘to the best of my skills’ are correct English. However, although I find 27,000 ghits for the plural, I only find seven of them on UK sites. So if you are in Canada or India or the USA, ‘skills’ is OK here.

Most interpreters in Germany swear an oath, a sort of permanent oath, when they are appointed, so they don’t have to swear in court. I did manage to affirm when I became a court-certified translator, although the courts seem fairly unfamiliar with that procedure here.

In an article on ProZ, Marta Stelmaszak, a Polish-to-English interpreter, also gives the affirmation.

The Interpreter’s Oath
“I swear by Allah/Almighty God, etc. that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”

The Interpreter’s Affirmation
“I do solemnly declare that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”

(That should be ‘the best’, not ‘my best’ – but ‘and true explanation make’ is apparently the recommended word order).

LATER NOTE: A commenter would have added the following affirmation as used in Oxford magistrates’ courts:

I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to the best of my skill and understanding.

I imagine there is a lot of variation over the country, or should I say over England and Wales. Apparently Scots are permitted to raise a hand when swearing.

Children of Deaf Adults/Wer kann dolmetschen?

Liaison interpreters (Verhandlungsdolmetscher) are trained to be more than people who just understand two languages.

Die Zeit did not take a trained liaison sign language interpreter when it decided to arrange for an interview with a deaf man and a blind woman (are we allowed to say that?).

Um Karina Wuttke und Mario Torster kommunizieren lassen zu können, ist eine Dolmetscherin gekommen, Rita Spring, Kind gehörloser Eltern. Ihre Gebärdensprache soll die Brücke zwischen beiden sein.

This is commented on in the blog of a deaf woman, Jule, die welt mit den augen schauen.

She calls the interpreter a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). CODAs often have to help their parents outside the home. The interpreter doesn’t give a complete translation for the deaf man, who comes over as a bit slow in consequence. She also says at the beginning that it’s impossible to say as much in sign language as in speech (that even struck me as odd).

Die Dolmetscherin lässt wieder ihre Hände fliegen, Karina Wuttke horcht in die Stille, Mario Torster liest aus Frau Springs Gesten. Er sieht die beiden Frauen reden, lachen und muss auf eine Erklärung warten. Wer denkt, ein Gehörloser habe es leichter, weil er ja »nur« nicht hören kann, hat sich in diesem Fall getäuscht. Es ist ein Interview mit Zeitverzögerung.

The interpreter’s hands start flying back and forth again, Karina Wuttke listens to the silence, while Mario Torster reads Ms Spring’s gestures. He sees the two women talking and laughing and has to wait for an explanation. If you thought the deaf had it easier because the only thing they cannot do is hear, you can think again. There is a time lag in the interview.

Why on earth did the interpreter not interpret simultaneously, or rather, more simultaneously? Well, there is always a time lapse in interpreted interviews, but that would not call for any comments.

The very idea of interviewing a blind person and a deaf person is not well received by this blogger, nor by the Behindertenparkplatz blogger, from whom I got the links.

Despite the problems, for me it was interesting to read in detail about how the two of them use the internet, or how useful mobile phones are to them. Or how a blind person forms an impression of Gerhard Schröder:

Typischer Macho. Der Stimme nach ein absolut arroganter Mensch, selbstherrlich, überstülpend.

SDI on Youtube

Richard Schneider links to a Youtube videoclip made by students of the SDI in Munich, advertising the school.
The SDI has a Berufsfachschule for secretaries, a Fachakademie (the staff there, unlike in Erlangen, coyly pronounce it F-A-K rather than as a word) for translators and interpreters, and since 2007 a private university for other courses – but the film explains it.