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Addressing linguistic inequality in legal settings

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Kibbee, Douglas A. 


Individuals have different linguistic competence in using the ‘standard’/official language(s) set by the state, and the differences can lead to inequality in the justice system. • Translators and interpreters in legal settings can be used as an immediate approach to compensate disadvantaged individuals. • The right to an interpreter and/or translator for those who do not speak, or (far less often) who speak non-standard varieties of the language of the court, is protected in many countries and mainly applies to criminal cases, leaving gaps in other legal cases where this right is not guaranteed. • In non-criminal trials, the responsibility to request interpreters and/or translators often falls either on those in need of the service, who sometimes are unaware of their needs or cannot afford the service, or on the judges who have not received sufficient training and support in recognizing and fulfilling these needs. • Practices addressing the issue include court transcription and interpreting, but even the use of these techniques does not eliminate errors which are extremely difficult to correct afterwards, leaving court participants’ rights unprotected. • More rigorous policies on legal interpretation and translation services are needed and a list of suggestions are provided in this paper.



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