How to become a court interpreter: Justice must be blind, not deaf.
Being a court interpreter is perhaps the most strenuous of the interpreter roles. While being an interpreter during a political or business conference comes with their own high-stakes responsibilities, being a court interpreter is a whole other level.
This is because to be a good court interpreter, one cannot simply communicate the language that is being used from the advocates or judges. It involves more than that.
The most important thing, over and above being proficient both with the language the law is spoken (or written in, though this goes more into translation territory – of course, there is an overlap) and the mother tongue of the litigant, accused, or witness, is a fundamental understanding of the law itself.
For instance, South Africa is founded on Roman-Dutch Law, which has its own particularities according to its origin. For instance, there are a great deal many Latin phrases which refer to an aspect of the law.
An example of this is the phrase nulla bona. Two words, in Latin, yet in South African Law involves quite a lot of complexities. It literally means “no goods”. What it states, by South African Law, is a “nulla bona” return of the Sheriff, or deputy-sheriff, or even a Messenger of the Court, that a person whom the judgement is made against to pay money which has been made – and has indicated he has insufficient disposable that can be possessed or attached in way to be sold, which would satisfy whatever the judgement concerned.
A court interpreter needs to understand all this, which is intricate, so as to explain, in a completely different language, to the person for whom the judgement has been made against.
Thus, to be at least a competent court interpreter, you must study the essentials of law (no one expects you to do a full LLB, however!) and be able to follow the sometimes intricate arguments put forward by advocates in advance of their cause.
It is known that opposing advocates in a case employ strategies designed to get a witness to unintentionally contradict himself. He may do so, fair or not, inadvertently due to not understanding the phrasing of the argument put forward by the advocate.
Your role is, of course, neutral. But you also have a responsibility to prevent a miscarriage of justice caused by inadequate explanations that cause the person you are interpreting for to misstep through no real fault of their own.
Therefore, being a court interpreter is one that requires integrity and also an understanding of logic.
Summing up, how to be a good court interpreter requires
1) Foundational understanding of legal system (in our case, Roman-Dutch Law, and what underpins it.
3) An ability to communicate very complex arguments or questions or cross-examinations to the litigant, accused, or witness.
4) A basis in Logic as a subject.
For this last, doing a course in Logic, especially as taught in Philosophy classes the country over, will provide an excellent grounding – and have many other benefits, besides.
Remember, you have a duty to offer your ability to communicate our laws as best you are able to to a person who is unfamiliar, literally, with the language of the Law.