Interpreting in the justice system can mean a range of work including, but not limited to:
• police interviews – victim statements; suspect interviews and statements; witness statements, etc.
• court appearances – bail hearings; adjournments; intervention orders, etc.
• court appearances – guilty pleas
• court appearances – not guilty pleas
• court appearances – committal hearings
• court appearances – family matters
• court appearances – civil or common law matters

Most interpreting in court is done at the lowest court level, Magistrate’s (all states and territories except NSW and Norfolk Island), Local Court (NSW) or Court of Petty Sessions (Norfolk Island). However, depending on the nature of the criminal charges, interpreting can also occur at the higher court levels, which vary from state to state.

As well, interpreting can occur at the federal court level; most commonly, this is in the Family Court of Australia.

An interpreter in the justice system needs to be very familiar with the type of terminology that is used. Often, this is very formal – even in the lower courts – and terminology can be unfamiliar to the average English user. Correspondingly, frequently there are not Auslan lexical items that directly correlate to the legal terms. Hence, an Auslan-English interpreter working in these settings needs to have additional knowledge to support his or her work towards dynamic equivalence between the two languages.

In addition, interpreters working in the justice system need to be able to manage interpreting language that can be highly confronting, containing information about sometimes violent and/or abhorrent criminal acts as well as be able to manage interpreting with a Deaf client who may be significantly distressed.

Further, interpreters need to be able to manage the significant linguistic differences between Auslan and English in an environment that can be very prescriptive about how matters are to be discussed in order not to “lead” a client in his or her response to a carefully formulated English question.

For example, in English, it would be a common question, “Did the attacker have a weapon?” with the word weapon holding a linguistic position of a superordinate or category label allowing for a range of possible responses.

This cannot be readily interpreted into Auslan without indicating the nature of the weapon and possibly how the weapon was used (for example, gun; knife; rock, etc. and shot; stabbing from above, below, directly in front; small, large, held in a clenched fist, held with two hands, etc.). These words hold a linguistic position of a subordinate or lexical items within the given category.

Auslan has far fewer lexical items for a superordinate than English does. However, whether it be a police statement or sworn testimony in court, the person asking the question does not wish to “taint” the response, and so broad, superordinate lexical items are used in English regardless of the linguistic differences in Auslan.

For more information about interpreting in the justice system, Guidelines for Interpreters in Legal Settings and ASLIA Legal Interpreting Policy.