Truth through Court Interpreters

DOI10.1350/ijep.2009.13.3.323
Publication Date01 Jul 2009
AuthorAnna Koo
SubjectArticle
TRUTH THROUGH COURT INTERPRETERS
Truth through court
interpreters
By Anna Koo*
LLB (KCL), LLM (Strath), Barrister (Hong Kong), Instructor I, City
University of Hong Kong Law School
Abstract This article examines the law and ethical principles applicable to the
interpretation of trial evidence as developed in Hong Kong, but with
comparative reference to other jurisdictions where pertinent. The rationale for
the right to interpretation and the main applicable precepts are considered. An
examination of case law indicates a general lack of awareness amongst legal
practitioners and judges of the evidential and ethical rules applicable to court
interpretation, which may in some cases lead to miscarriages of justice and
quashed convictions. The article concludes by arguing for a reappraisal of the
importance of court interpretation and for making an understanding of the
relevant rules more central to the discipline of criminal evidence.
Keywords Criminal trials; Hong Kong; Right to interpretation; Fair trial; Ethical
codes
he deployment of court interpreters is vital for legal proceedings. Only
through them can witnesses speak in a language of choice, accused
persons understand the proceedings and the nature of evidence, and
fact-finders follow the progress of the hearing. Court interpreters are at the
frontline of the criminal justice process. They remove the language barrier during
trial, so that an accused is able to comprehend the evidence adduced against him
and effectively participate in his defence. In other words, they help to ensure a
just and fair trial for the accused. The court interpreting service is therefore of
immense public significance and deserves close scrutiny.
This article will begin with tracing the common law right of an accused to the
service of a court interpreter, with special reference to Hong Kong. It will then
focus on three aspects of the role of the interpreter, which are of concern to trial
doi:1350/ijep.2009.13.3.323
212 (2009) 13 E&P 212–224 THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF EVIDENCE & PROOF
T
* Email: akoo.esq@gmail.com.

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