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.
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.