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Bad interpreters a 'threat' to rule of law in Sweden

TT/The Local/dl · 6 Sep 2011, 10:08

Published: 06 Sep 2011 10:08 GMT+02:00

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In some cases, judges have been forced to stop trials because interpreters don't understand legal terms used in the courtroom.

Many interpreters have only had one term of education before being involved in complicated conversations with clients and patients who don't speak Swedish.

Substandard translations and huge misunderstandings are often the result.

In one asylum case, a boy said he had fled his country after a grenade had been thrown at his house. In court, however, the Swedish word for grenade, granat, became granatäpple, the Swedish word for pomegranate.

“The training is insufficient for managing conversations in jurisprudence, healthcare, and asylum. That's a threat to the rule of law,” Lund University researcher Kristina Gustafsson, who has studied the Swedish courts' interpreter service, told the TT news agency.

It's not uncommon for courts to break off trials due to language problems between interpreters, clients, and judges.

“It happens more often than I'd like,” Kerstin Hardgren, a chief judge with the administrative court in Malmö, told TT.

Authorised interpreters are only present for around 600 of the 6,000 total hours which are interpreted in Sweden every day.

“They've gone through difficult tests. Of course one can still be competent, but about half of all interpreters can't manage the work they're assigned,” said Gustafsson.

The Swedish Bar Association (Advokatsamfundet) has long been concerned about the problem of inadequate interpreters in the Swedish legal system.

“It's an incredibly large problem and I don't know if it looks to be getting any better,” bar association head Anne Ramberg told TT.

Story continues below…

She believes that significant effort is required to find a solution.

“Ultimately, the politicians have responsibility to ensure that there are resources available to train legal interpreters. Then it's also a question of seeing that interpreters get compensated appropriately so the profession is respected and attracts talented people,” said Ramberg.

That judges are forced to stop trials because interpreters don't understand legal terms “reveals the depth” of the problem.

“It's not only a substantive problem for the rule of law, but also a question of costs,” she said.

TT/The Local/dl (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:48 September 6, 2011 by jacquelinee
The poor education bomb again. Not dropping it. Someone else will have to.
12:51 September 6, 2011 by zircon
Swedish interpretation of law, hmm... it must be interesting to have a closer look at. (To me it's no different than Arabic.)
13:18 September 6, 2011 by BrittInSweden
Didn't realise "grenade" was a legal term???
13:48 September 6, 2011 by The_Truthisbitter
Translation and interpretation requires one to be knowledgeable in different types of fields and their dictionary. I dont think the Swedish system where someone is free to just leave Gymnasium and start training in a certain field permits them to acquire knowledge in multiple fields. Translation and interpretation is a Social Science, meaning you must be ready to take in as much as possible from other cultures and enhance your performance. From what I know of the Swedish Education System, accepting new and good things from different cultures is NOT the norm..the Norm is to PUSH away new and the good from other cultures and avoid CONTAMINATION from other sources.
14:10 September 6, 2011 by skumdum
Sweden should only provide interpretation to finnish, sami, romani, yiddish and meänkieli. If you speak any other language than that's your problem.
14:45 September 6, 2011 by joeyt
@skumdum I guess you don't consider the case when a foreign tourist is the witness or the victim of a serious crime while visiting Sweden.
15:29 September 6, 2011 by Douglas Garner
@joeyt... the tourist is probably required to testify in Swedish even though would have little idea what they were saying!
18:23 September 6, 2011 by zircon
Seriously, your country is important to understand how the system works. This is good for global business or partnership. I bet there are a few things in your language we would find hard to interpret to e.g. English or German. Or Surinam. (Hahaha!)
20:07 September 6, 2011 by eddie123
it is better if the system employs a unique system of translation. get stuff translated from whatever foreign language to english and from english to swedish. that way, you get two interpreters, one swedish-english-swedish and one whatever-language-english-whatever-language. get professionals and pay them. not the junk coming off sfi. go to three different sfi classes and you'd learn three different kinds of swedish. it's just crazy stuff.
20:21 September 6, 2011 by zooeden
where did they get them, Arbetsförmedlingen???
22:13 September 6, 2011 by Brucelee@stockholm.sweden
in some cases English should be used as 2nd official language, because it is a world talk now, there is nothing related to anglo-saxon, it is just a language, 200 years later maybe mayaa becomes world talk who knows,

Don't be shy Swede, talk English sometimes.
01:44 September 7, 2011 by zircon
Ay, I agree, I agree... And once you get to know it there is no stoppin' ya from it, man.
17:24 January 2, 2012 by Ranger
Nothing will change with the antiquated Swedish Court system until it is replaced by English Common Law, everyone speaks English and the incompetent and corrupt employees are replaced with honest people..
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