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Study: Errors in trials where interpreters are used

Published fredag 20 maj 2016 kl 10.37
Researcher: English could become even more problematic
(3:45 min)
Marcus Ericsson/TT
Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT Credit: Marcus Ericsson/TT

A study shows that people who require translators during legal proceedings are less likely to get fair treatment.

Malmö University and Linnaeus University followed 40 legal procedures involving people born outside Sweden and found that when interpreters were used the court's questions were often mistranslated. And occasionally long conversations between the interpreter and the person giving testimony were rendered back to the court with a summary "yes" or "no."

Researchers found shortcomings in many of the trials they looked at, said Annika Staaf, a sociologist at Malmö University who was one of the researchers in the study.

"Needing interpretation during the trial means you get worse treatment in the courtroom. That's what the trials we've looked at have shown, that you end up at a disadvantage," Staaf told Swedish Radio news.

Staaf told Radio Sweden that the researchers had used recordings of the trials and performed their own translations and analyses, which helped them find a number of problems. She said errors were often made if the translators were under any stress, which court personnel sometimes created.

"You can see it was affecting their abilities to interpret in a good way," said Staaf.

While courts and interpters have known for years about problems with using interpreters during trial proceedings, Staaf said the problem will become more pronounced because of the recent arrival of a record number of refugees.

Staaf said there were similar problems for different languages. But English, even though it's a lingua franca, could be a second language for both court participants and personnel, which might double the amount of information lost in translation. 

"Sometimes it became even more problematic because they took it for granted that [those being questioned] understood the questions and they rushed the interpreter a bit," said Staaf.

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