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About Legal Interpreting

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Legal interpreting is one of the major interpreting services in community interpreting. Interpreters are employed in various legal situations where formality, participants, use and goal of language as well as the role of interpreters are different. Legal interpreting covers mainly four legal situations, or domains:

Police interviews and interrogations

During interviews and interrogations, witness statements or suspects’ records are produced, which form the basis of a case and are crucial evidence in court. If qualified interpreters are used, they can be impartial and produce reliable evidence which minimises the risk of being excluded in court. Not only can this boosts police efficiency, but also ensures detainees’ rights to be respected, messages to be recorded and interpreted faithfully with the focus on communication process.

Lawyer-client meetings

Then, in lawyer-client conversations, interpreters found themselves placed between the formal, legal world of lawyers and the everyday-life world of clients. However, the responsibility of bridging the gap and helping clients to understand legal terms are not on interpreters.

Tribunal hearings

Tribunal hearings, compared to court hearings, are less formal without the need to strictly follow the rule of evidence. Instead, it is in a questioning and answering style. Interpreters are more commonly seen in refugee hearings especially relating to asylum seekers.

Court hearings and trials

Qualified and professional interpreters are essential in courtroom settings as specific courtroom language is applied. Lawyers from both parties use language strategically including question types, repetition, intonation, etc. Also, the content, delivery, manner, register and style of oral evidence will affect the final decisions and judgements.

Indeed, the legal situations are not limited to the aforementioned settings. A qualified legal interpreter should be prioritised, considering that they are well-trained for providing accurate interpretation services for different parties.

The accuracy of interpretation is contributable to the level of trustworthiness of the clients and judges’ impression on the parties. It also reflects the competence of interpreters. The following conditions apply. First, interpreters comply with the code of ethics during the interpreter-mediated interaction, where they are not biased in favour of either side. Besides, upon the provision of faithful rendition, interpreters pay full attention to the preservation of register and stylistic features in order to bring out the most accurate interpretation. In addition, when faced with colloquial wordings or obscure cultural terms, interpreters take the active role to clarify any ambiguity.

Despite its importance, accuracy can be difficult to achieve. Firstly, colloquial and metaphorical language are often culturally-bounded. Not only do interpreters need to give accurate rendition, but also be aware of the cultural implications. Besides, interpreters may be overwhelmed by overlapping speech where everyone fights to speak. Furthermore, clients’ speaking styles may also pose difficulties as not everyone speaks in a coherent, structured and chronological manner due to personality or past experiences. There are more challenges that interpreters might come across such as emotional stress, cross-cultural issues and difficult terminologies.

Prepared by:

CHAN Chak Hong

CHIN Wing Tung

MAK Wing Hei

YEUNG Wing Ting

Edited by:

Dr. Janice Pan


Hale, S. B. (2007). Interdisciplinarity: Community Interpreting in the Legal Context. In Community interpreting (pp. 64-98). Hampshire: Palgrave McMillan. doi:

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