The Linguist

The Linguist 59,4 - Aug/Sept 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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12 The Linguist Vol/59 No/4 2020 FEATURES Interpreting at the Coroner's Court is not for the faint- hearted, reports Sue Leschen following a harrowing job I have interpreted at numerous legal and insurance venues in connection with the circumstances of an accidental death, but when I interpreted at an inquest recently, it was definitely a first. The assignment took place on a grey, rainy day, which didn't make it any easier, given that the subject of the inquest was the apparent suicide of a young man. It was raining when I arrived at the Coroner's Court and it was still raining when I left some six hours later. My somewhat brief instructions were to interpret for a full day in the court for the deceased's family, who wished to oppose the view of the medical professionals that their son's death was non-accidental. It was going to be a tough job. The remit of the Coroner's Court is to investigate the circumstances surrounding certain deaths, starting with the initial report of the fact of death and concluding with a decision as to cause of death, as well as proposals regarding the prevention of future deaths. Proceedings are before the coroner, who is usually a lawyer, and they are formal in nature, with lay and professional witnesses attending to give evidence. Lawyers may also be present to represent any interested parties – in this case, the family of the deceased. In terms of preparing for the assignment, it quickly dawned on me that I didn't know either of any guidance about interpreting at inquests, or of any colleagues who had interpreted at them and might be able to offer insights. It is an area of work which is not covered in legal interpreter training courses, which only cover the 'usual' venues, such as Magistrates and Crown Courts, and police stations. I tried to focus on the positives: I did have broadly relevant experience gleaned from interpreting in fatal road traffic accident cases in civil and criminal courts, and for insurance companies. Being a lawyer-linguist was also obviously a bonus as I was au fait with general court procedure and legal terminology. However, to acquaint myself with specific terminology and procedure relating to the Coroner's Court, I checked out the relevant government web pages. What I was unable to prepare was the paperwork that would be referred to during the hearing, as the client was unwilling to share the relevant statements and reports, citing the confidential nature of the evidence. I offered to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I also explained that a good interpreter is a prepared interpreter and advised the client, in writing, that I would be disadvantaged unless I was properly prepared. All to no avail. In such situations, you never know if it is the agency or the end client who is unwilling to assist. Once the hearing was underway, the fact that I was unfamiliar with the specialised medical terminology, including the names of medical conditions, procedures and medication, meant that on occasion I had to request permission from the judge to ask the professional medical witnesses for clarification. I made a point of telling the judge that my call for advance disclosure had been refused, which he was clearly unhappy about as all the other players had received the relevant papers. Graphic details On a personal level, not knowing the medical evidence in advance meant that it was all the more shocking for me on the day. I was one of the few people in the court room who was in that position, as the family and friends of the deceased, and the lay and professional witnesses, were already acquainted with the information – although some of them knew more than others, depending on their respective relationships with the deceased. Most of the evidence, especially relating to his final days, was harrowing. It was provided either orally or by means of written statements by witnesses who were not present in court and whose evidence had been agreed in advance. There were numerous witnesses, including the family and friends of the deceased, as well as health care professionals, police officers and the ambulance crew who had been called to the scene. My client instructed me to interpret everything other than 'graphic' medical details, which meant that I had to remain on red alert for those parts of the evidence, and The final word I had to remain on red alert… and use my discretion to decide which parts counted as 'graphic'

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