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Knowledge Centre on Interpretation

Legal interpreting - Definition and context

What is legal interpreting, and what does it mean in this context?


'Legal interpreting is a branch of interpreting conducted when speakers of different languages have to communicate in legal or paralegal settings. Each legal system has its own unique court procedures, legal concepts, and terms that sometimes have no equivalent in other languages. This cultural asymmetry of legal systems creates substantial interpreting difficulties. In order to interpret competently, court interpreters must be well versed in legal terminology. The role of the court interpreter is to make communication possible between speakers of different languages. A courtroom interpreter has ethical responsibilities to fulfil. The challenges to courtroom interpreting include lack of bilingual legal dictionaries, obstacles to pragmatic influence etc. Court interpreters require training, in both interpreting skills and court interpreting. Effective courtroom interpreting can only be achieved by the professionalization of interpreters through compulsory education, adequate working conditions, and professional remuneration for effective multilingual dialogue.'

Source: Stern L, 2011, 'Courtroom interpreting', in The Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies, eds. K. Malmkjaer and K. Windle. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 325-342.

For the purpose of this Knowledge Centre, when we talk about legal interpretering we are referring to the interpretation provided at various stages of the legal process. It enables a clear dialogue between implicated party and legal authority or counsellor by offering two-way communication through one single interpreter.


Three EU directives are often mentioned in the context of ‘legal’ interpretation which address the right to interpretation in specific settings, they do not however address how interpretation is delivered: Directive 2010/64/EU on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings and Directive 2012/13/EU and Directive 2012/29/EU spelling out the conditions for exercising the right to interpretation and translation. Please note that the transposition of the aforementioned directives and the pursuant application of legislation is the responsibility of the member states of the European Union.


The current platform is merely intended to offer a space to stakeholders in their exchange of (best) practices regarding different aspects linked to the quality of interpretation in legal settings.


The legal interpreting section of the Knowledge Centre is thus to be seen as a meeting place for everybody involved in legal interpreting - interpreters, students, teachers, researchers, professional organisations and authorities to share information or best practices on aspects linked to the quality  of legal interpretation. These might pertain, for example, to existing professional organisations of legal interpreters, to available training opportunities for legal interpreters or to registers of qualified interpreters.


Are you part of a professional organisation of legal interpreters? Please help us to complete the information by using the contribution form, so the knowledge can be shared and put to broader use!


To join or create a community, please go to the Collaborative Space - Communities

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