Sunday, February 28, 2010

More on the Shafia Hearing

The other day (February 18), I made some remarks about the Farsi (aka Dari) interpreters at the preliminary hearing for a murder trial in Ontario, Canada. I want to make it clear that I wasn't being disparaging of their actual interpretations, which haven't been challenged or criticized even though they were probably being closely monitored by the interpreter hired independently by the defence. Rather I had doubts about their preparedness for the work at the outset and about their working conditions. Here's some more first-hand description of the latter from perceptive crime reporter Rob Tripp.
An elaborate audio system was installed in the courtroom to allow the simultaneous translation of the proceedings between English and Farsi… The translation was fed to everyone in the courtroom through wireless headsets.
A sound-deadening booth that was dubbed the garden shed by lawyers was erected near the prisoners box. Two court-certified translators, a man from Ottawa and another from Cornwall, drove to Kingston daily to sit inside the booth for hours, where they took turns interpreting the dialogue. An interpreter hired by the defence sat at a table behind the three defence lawyers… The proceeding wasn't without hiccups, however. Often [the judge] was required to interrupt witnesses and occasionally lawyers, urging them to slow down to allow the translators to keep pace.
Several times, the translators interrupted the proceedings after realizing that they had misinterpreted words and phrases.
"It worked better than I expected it would," said defence lawyer Peter Kemp, who represents the accused father. "The problem still is, when the witness gets asked a question, for example, in English by the Crown [i.e., the prosecution] and the translator translates that question in Farsi to the witness, there is quite often a lengthy discussion that goes on between the translator and the witness which leaves me wondering whether there is more being said by the witness that we should be hearing."
Kemp, an experienced litigator who is well known for his ability to identify and pounce on inconsistencies in testimony, said it was difficult to make notes and to focus on the behaviour of witnesses.
"You're trying to concentrate on the witness, who's off to my right and the translators are speaking and I can hear them subtly off to my left," he said. "You lose track of what's being said."
The translation booth butted up against the defence table in the relatively small courthouse…
The translation obstacles were exaggerated by the occasional appearance of witnesses who spoke in French, including the last witness who appeared yesterday, a man from Montreal.
In that case, a French translator stood next to the witness, translating back and forth between English. Those translations were then translated into Farsi.
This last is what the Professionals call relay interpreting, generally a last resort because it adds to the time lag between what the speaker says and the translation and because the chances of misinterpretation are doubled. But it's often inevitable.

In a subsequent post, I’ll get to the connection between all this and Natural Translation.

Rob Tripp. Prelim comes to an end. The Kingston Whig-Standard, February 27, 2010.

The February 18 post was headed with a photo of the County Court House at Kingston. Actually the preliminary hearing wasn't held there but in a smaller local court house in the city.

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