Becoming a Court Interpreter – What Are the Requirements?

The requirements for court interpreters have been set for some time already. However, these have been called into question by some concerns in service provision in this area. Subsequently, new minimum standards are currently being derived.

Modes of Interpreting

The three modes of interpreting are the simultaneous, consecutive, and whispered forms. While the first two are used in court reporting, the latter, also known as chuchotage, is used to whisper translations to a guest at a mixed-language dinner, for example. The consecutive mode is used when the interpreter lets the speaker finish a couple of sentences in their home language, which are then translated into the courtroom language.

Generally, consecutive interpreting is used in court. Simultaneous interpreting may have a downside due to the differences in word order between languages, or in interpreting colloquialisms. But it may still be used in a multiple-language hearing where two or more languages are required to be interpreted.

Types of Interpreters

There are three categories of interpreters: those that interpret at conferences, business interpreters, and public service interpreters. Their requirements for modes of speech differ. We look at each briefly.

Conference Interpreters

Conference interpreting has pairs of interpreters that operate from booths. They will be fitted with headphones and linked to digital technology, such as speech-to-written word and television screens. Simultaneous interpreting is used for conferences.

Whispered interpreting is a type of simultaneous interpreting. It may be used by delegates that need it. For example, the conference may be in English. Hence, a French delegate with poor English comprehension may use a whispered interpreter that whispers the French translations to them continuously. This form may be used at formal dinners of political representatives. In these cases, the interpreter will use simultaneous interpreting at a normal volume to convey the non-English words of the representatives to the rest of the party present. Another example of a court interpreter is training seminars.

Occasionally, consecutive interpreting is used for speeches that last over five minutes.

Business Interpreters

These interpreters use the consecutive mode by listening while taking notes and then relaying this into the required language. Business interpreters are used for meetings, negotiations, training, and presentations. Questions may be translated from the non-business language and the response provided to participants in the non-business language.

Liaison or ad-hoc interpreting requires this dual language interpreting. Whispered interpreting is used for individual clients. Otherwise, the consecutive mode is used. Whispered interpreting using the simultaneous mode is useful for factory tours and one-on-one meetings.

Specialist legal interpreting, using the consecutive mode, occurs between a solicitor and a client. Specialist medical interpreting uses the same mode for a doctor and patient consult.

Public Service Interpreters

Public Service Interpreting is used by the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and is used in its various sectors. These include Prisons, Probation, Child Protection Services (CPS), Police, and the Courts. The simultaneous (whispered) mode and the consecutive mode are both used. Local government interpreting covers community services, social services, and local government.

With this general understanding of when and how interpreting occurs, let us look at how to become a court interpreter.

How to Become a Court Interpreter According to New Legislation

In a Parliamentary session in 2022, the House of Lords called for amendments to the minimum qualifications of UK court interpreting services, following on from a move to legislate this in November 2021. This resulted in the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) undertaking an independent review of the qualifications in question. Consequently, the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill will be amended accordingly.

This mandates three requirements for court interpreting personnel to be considered for appointment to a hearing or tribunal. These specific requirements are:

  • Registration with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI);
  • Level 6 Diploma in Public Service Interpreting; alternatively to fulfil the NRPSI Rare Language Status requirements;
  • To complete the number of hours interpreting in court as laid down by professional bodies and the Secretary of State. The hours required vary according to the difficulty levels of these cases.

The National Register of Public Service Interpreters has a large role to play in terms of their input to the proposed amendments. The aim of such a review is to formulate a comprehensive framework that specifies each of the minimum requirements and provides a justification for its inclusion. There must also be only one set of standards for admission to the role of a court interpreter.

The outcome of the review process is intended for completion in 2023 to coincide with the new tenders for court interpreters that will be issued by the Ministry of Justice next year. The House of Lords indicated that this process would ensure that taxpayers receive value for their money. The Executive Director and Registrar of NRPSI welcomed the review, which he stated would ensure the professionalism and high standing of court interpreters as a profession and overcome existing concerns with the current provision of language services.

The need for professionalism in the interpreting field should meet the standards of established and vetted court interpreting services from Rosetta Translation, for example.

Current Requirements to Be a Court Interpreter

The current requirements to take on court interpreting London are as follows:

  • Proficiency in signing or speaking two languages
  • Aged 18 plus
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Proven literacy and bilingualism via language proficiency testing
  • Complete 40 hours of training
  • Hold a professional interpreter qualification
  • Pass language proficiency testing for all spoken and signed languages

As noted, these current minimum requirements are being reviewed. If you are aiming for a position as a court interpreter, it is advisable to make sure that you comply with the higher-level requirements in full rather than only aiming to meet the existing standards. While you may be able to get interpreting work in other sectors, such as business, the medical field, and at political and other conferences, you will not be able to work as a court interpreter without achieving these standards.

It is also advisable to seek employment with companies that have already established themselves in the court interpreting arena and elsewhere. Top companies will be proficient and have staff capable of working across the broad spectrum of interpreting opportunities.

If being a court interpreter is your goal, you can follow these guidelines to work towards this title.

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