Legal interpreters help people exercise their rights in court, no matter what language they speak.
The courtroom is full. A witness takes the stand to answer the lawyers’ questions. But she can only speak Spanish. Still, the trial goes on smoothly thanks to the legal interpreter.
Legal interpreters play an important role in the legal system. They break down language barriers. They help people exercise their rights in court, no matter what language they speak. The right to an interpreter in court is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the case of our witness, the legal interpreter listens to what she says in Spanish and then translates it out loud, in French or English. A legal interpreter must remain neutral and not take sides.
The words an interpreter chooses are important. Good interpreters pay close attention to what a person says and translate it as accurately as possible. They must concentrate for hours at a time, and they must be good communicators.
Legal interpreters in Quebec usually interpret French and English, as well as Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. Sometimes they are also needed for Arabic, Greek, Cambodian or other languages.
- prepare well before going to court by learning vocabulary that might be used during the trial
- listen very carefully to what the witness, expert, lawyer or judge says
- state in another language exactly what was said
Judges and lawyers can also ask legal interpreters to translate written documents out loud.
Legal interpreters work mostly in court. They might also accompany legal professionals to meetings or negotiations.
During trials, legal interpreters speak in front of a number of people, including judges, lawyers, witnesses and sometimes even a jury.
The work is very demanding and can be stressful. Interpreters have to concentrate at all times. And sometimes they must translate very technical or complicated terms.
There is no specific training for legal interpreters, but most have studied translation or languages.
Several Quebec universities offer a bachelor’s program in translation. The University of Ottawa offers a masters degree in conference interpreting.
Legal training is not necessary but can be very useful.
To be a certified legal interpreter, you must become a member of the Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec (association of certified translators, terminologists and interpreters). But you can still work as a legal interpreter without being certified by the OTTIAQ. Visit the OTTIAQ website for more information.
It’s a good idea for legal interpreters to register with the legal interpretation and translation department of their local courthouse. They must pass an exam to have their names included on the list of interpreters at the courthouse.
Legal interpreters are usually self-employed. What they earn depends on how much work they get.
Legal interpretation and translation departments in courthouses often hire interpreters for trials. Interpreters can also get work from the private sector. For example, a law firm might need an interpreter in a setting other than the courtroom.
Few legal interpreters earn their living by doing only interpretation. It’s a difficult job to do on a daily basis. So they often do written translation as well. They can also work at legal or other types of conferences.
To learn more
Free resources for teachers and support staff
Ready-to-use activities, in-class workshops run by volunteer legal professionals, exclusive content―discover a host of resources and information developed by legal education experts!legalifeskills.ca