The following article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald
Credibility concerns prompt calls for interpreter training
January 12, 2010
It is perhaps little surprise that jurors find witnesses who hesitate or ''um'' and ''ah'' are less credible than those who give their evidence forcefully. Even if witnesses answer clearly but in a foreign language, jurors consider them less convincing if their interpreter constantly searches for the right words.
Such is the negative impact of poor interpreters, academics and the government body that employs them suggest it is time for specialist training.
But research has shown that interpreters should not be too good: if they interpret into English without an accent, jurors mistrust them and regard them as less credible, honest or persuasive than those who say the same thing with an accent.
In NSW, about 40 interpreters work in a courtroom every day - their services are required about 10,000 times a year. In 2008-09 they were most frequently used to translate Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, Persian or Turkish.
Court interpreters have to be qualified to level three (of five) under the national accreditation scheme.
Associate Professor Sandra Hale, from the University of Western Sydney, said they did not have to study interpreting or learn about the pitfalls of appearing in court, and those who have the training get frustrated at not being treated like professionals.
Lawyers used to believe interpreting was like using a machine, she said, and failed to recognise that it was a difficult skill and that certain languages required extra information.
Her research, presented at a conference on juries, found that while an interpreter's characteristics such as gender, appearance and accent did not negatively influence the credibility of the evidence they were interpreting, their abilities - such as mirroring the speaker's speech style - did. ''We can train them to do well those other things that do have an impact on the outcome,'' she said.
The Bar Association junior vice president, Phillip Boulten, SC, said jurors were suspicious of people who used interpreters: ''They see it as a prop or opportunity to gain time for thinking.''
He usually advised witnesses to use English if possible: ''Most barristers would form the view that a jury is likely to lose the impact of a witness it there's an intervening medium such as an interpreter.''
Using interpreters often created confusion and complications although the standard of interpretation in NSW was high. ''The interpreter needs to understand the nuances of the English question and interpret that accordingly,'' Mr Boulten said.
''Sometimes that is impossible. Sometimes that is better achieved by some [interpreters] than others. Sometimes the interpreter takes it upon themselves to interpret quite liberally, rather than literally.''
There have been cases where interpreters have been replaced or challenged.
The Community Relations Commission, which supplies interpreters, does occasional spot checks but the fear is that many problems go unnoticed.
The commission chairman, Stepan Kerkyasharian, said he believed that, ''given resources'', the standard of interpreting in courts was ''reasonable'' but that specialist standards for court and medical interpreters were a good idea.http://www.smh.com.au/national/credibility-concerns-prompt-calls-for-interpreter-training-20100111-m2s7.html