Expert Court Interpreting Services in Switzerland: Bridging Language Gaps in Legal Proceedings with Accuracy and Integrity
The saying “any statement can and will be used against you in court” is well known from films and television and makes it clear how much weight every word can carry in a court case. But what happens when, at a trial or other related meeting, the plaintiff and defendant do not speak the same language?
In Switzerland, if a party to a case does not speak the language spoken at court, a so-called court interpreter can be called in. This person ensures complete communication between all parties involved and translates into the respective target languages. The court interpreter has to face the special challenge of interpreting during a court hearing: they have to reproduce all statements precisely and must not interpret, abbreviate or embellish the translation. In addition to a first-class knowledge of both negotiating languages, they must also have an excellent knowledge of the Swiss legal system, legal guidelines and technical terms, and be familiar with court procedures.
What exactly does a court interpreter do?
The court interpreter either interprets for the defendant or the plaintiff, or acts as an interpreter for the court. If the court interpreter acts for the defendant or the plaintiff, he or she will translate the statements of the other persons into the defendant’s target language. The defendant or plaintiff attending the trial will be informed of the charges and the proceedings, but must be able to follow the trial in its entirety and, if possible, without delay.
Interpreting for the court involves translating statements made by the defendant, plaintiff, witnesses or other persons into the official language used by the court.
In addition, court interpreters must interpret the minutes of the hearing (interrogation record) during questioning or hearings by the police or public prosecutors.
Court interpreting techniques
Various interpreting techniques can be used in court. The choice of technique depends, among other things, on who the translation is for.
If the defendant or the plaintiff uses the services of a court interpreter, simultaneous interpreting is usually used, although the special form of whispered interpreting is also common. In this case, the translation is whispered into the ear of the defendant or plaintiff during the hearing, so that the proceedings can continue without any significant delay.
When interpreting for the court, so-called consecutive interpreting is often used. In this case, individual sections of the conversation are interpreted with a time delay. In addition, the court interpreter must also be proficient in abbreviated translation. This technique, also known as impromptu translation, requires the interpreter to translate directly during the proceedings, for example when evidence is presented.
Where and when is court interpreting used?
As a rule, a court interpreter always works directly on site. In addition to the courtroom, a court interpreter can also be called to other venues where legal actions take place, such as the police station or the public prosecutor’s office.
The legal context can be given in a wide variety of matters. In addition to criminal proceedings, others such as divorce proceedings, proceedings for protection of the marital union or conciliation proceedings, as well as hearings, may also give rise to the use of a court interpreter.
In addition, court interpreting may also be necessary on the lawyer’s premises, for example at notarial hearings, at the notary’s office when the contents of files have to be translated or acts interpreted, or at the registry office when paternity is acknowledged. Other occasions include contract negotiations, marriage preparation procedures and wedding ceremonies.
Special requirements for court interpreters
Interpreters who wish to work as court interpreters must meet special requirements. In addition to their excellent knowledge of both target languages, they must be familiar with the peculiarities of the Swiss legal system. They must have the legal vocabulary in both languages to understand and accurately translate all proceedings, statements and actions and be informed about court procedures. This is important not only to ensure that the hearing runs smoothly, but also to comply with court etiquette: Interpreters need to know what courtroom customs prevail in their canton, such as when they are allowed to speak and how to make corrections in the event of discrepancies or errors in understanding.
In order to work as a court interpreter in Switzerland, interpreters need to be accredited, although this can vary from canton to canton.
Depending on the place of practice, interpreters have to prove their relevant expertise after an initial selection procedure and pass further examinations on the subject of legal knowledge or special interpreting techniques. Participation in courses preparing for the special requirements may also be a condition. Furthermore, interested parties must be able to prove that they have an impeccable reputation: for example, the interpreter must not have committed any registered violations of legal regulations or orders and there must not be any pending criminal proceedings. Proof of an impeccable reputation can be provided in the form of the so-called certificate of good conduct, which can be applied for at the competent authority.
The court interpreter must be morally above reproach, should be as neutral and detached as possible and be able to deal with the psychologically demanding situation of a court case.
Cooperation with accredited court interpreters
Our managing director, Silvia Cerrella Bauer, is an accredited interpreter at the Supreme Court of the Canton of Zurich and is very familiar with the peculiarities of the Swiss legal system. For many years she has regularly worked as an interpreter for the private sector, investigative authorities and courts, and has a large network of experienced court interpreters in numerous languages.