Challenges of consecutive interpretation in negotiating mutual legal assistance treaties


According to the FOJ Guidelines (2010) on this subject, international mutual assistance in criminal matters comprises: “all measures taken by one state (requested state) at the request of another state (requesting state) to facilitate the prosecution and punishment of offences in the requesting state.” It concerns inter-state relations and is predominantly implemented by law enforcement agencies.

International mutual assistance is governed in its entirety by the Federal Act on International Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (IMAC; SR 351.1). The Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) decides on requests for mutual legal assistance, extraditions, transfers as well as on deputy prosecution and execution of sentences. In particular, the FOJ receives foreign requests and summarily examines the admissibility of these requests.

Around 30 per cent of global assets are managed in Switzerland, and so the country has long been faced with the difficulty of having to find a solution to the problem that assets of criminal origin are also located in the Swiss financial centre. The FOJ negotiates with foreign authorities treaties on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, in the context of which agreements on the surrender and division of assets of criminal origin are an important aspect.

Interpreting within the framework of negotiations in an international legal context

Interpreting in the context of such negotiations, where representatives of foreign countries negotiate procedures and distribution keys with their Swiss counterparts, requires precision and accuracy. Nothing of what is said may be omitted, added or interpreted. Language register and tonality must also be right.

For this demanding task, the interpreters not only have excellent skills in the two negotiating languages, but are also very familiar with the Swiss legal system.

The technology

The A5 notepad is a constant companion for the interpreters. In it, they use their personal note-taking technique to record the content of the statements to be interpreted in writing for the purpose of reproduction in the target language.

In some cases, welcoming or technical speeches by delegates also have to be interpreted. For this purpose, the interpreters use the technique of sight-reading (also called impromptu translation), i.e. they translate the source text aloud into the target language while reading it. Good diction and articulate speech with a normal speaking tempo are a basic requirement here.

Das Bundeshaus, Sitz der Schweizer Bundesbehörden

Source: CB Multilingual LLC, Feldmeilen

Interpreting beyond languages

Interpreters remain impartial and do not allow emotions to enter into the interpretation. However, their task goes far beyond the exact rendering of what is said: thanks to their intercultural competence, they know when an explanation or description of certain concepts or terms is required that belong to the cultural particularities of the country or legal system in question. This is the only way to ensure that, at all times, all parties involved are fully aware of every detail of the matter at hand and thus able to make informed decisions.

We interpreters work in the background but are always present. With our professional work, we contribute to Switzerland’s successful cooperation with international partners.

As an accredited court interpreter, Silvia Cerrella Bauer (Managing Director CB Multilingual GmbH) provided her consecutive interpreting services last week in the context of an international negotiation at the Federal Palace in Bern.

If, at the end of the negotiations, the parties join hands and agree on how they want to tackle the fight against international crime, corruption, money laundering and the financing of terrorism, we interpreters can be proud of doing a worthwhile and rewarding job.

You can read more about this exciting type of interpreting in our blog “Court interpreting: challenges and required competencies“.