The Importance of Working With a Legal Interpreter

Last Updated On: March 6, 2023


Legal Translation

What is legal interpreting?

In societies that have become ever more multilingual, interpreting and translating services are becoming ever more important. Legal interpreting is needed in many situations that require communication between people who understand and speak different languages. Legal interpreting involves real-time interpreting of audio communication. This may be in a situation in which those involved in the communication are present in the same room as the legal interpreter, or the legal interpreter is located remotely and is performing an interpreting service via the Internet or through some other audio-visual form of communication. 

Note that legal interpreting and legal translating are two related but separate services. Legal translation is as important as legal interpreting but is used principally to convert legal text from one language to another and is therefore usually performed after the legal dialogue has taken place, e.g. as a record.

Legal interpreter skills and qualities

Legal interpreters are primarily professional interpreters who have a good grounding in legal proceedings and terminology. They must be fluent in the languages they are listening to and converting and must also have developed a relatively rapid response method when they perform interpreting. This immediate response is what differentiates legal interpreters from legal translators. The latter typically have more time to read what has been said and have more time to ensure that they have translated what text they have been given as accurately as possible.


    I agree to the Privacy Policy and the Collection Notice under the Australian Privacy Act.

    To clarify what determines a good legal interpreter, the skills needed to be an interpreter include the following:

    • be fluent in at least the two languages they offer;
    • be professional interpreters, i.e. have been through a recognized interpreting course and have qualifications or accreditation (depending on the jurisdiction they are working in) as an interpreter;
    • are able to quickly respond to conversation or speech in a legal setting;
    • have a good grounding in legal processes, such as working with police, in a court, with a lawyer, etc.

    The advantages of working with legal interpreters

    The reality is that today, few modern affluent societies are purely monolingual. Migration and the movement of refugees have meant that most societies are multilingual to one degree or another. While many people who have moved to a new country where the language is different from their own may have a working knowledge of that country’s language, they may not feel confident in a legal context to speak in any other language than their own. 

    Trying to communicate without a professional legal translator can potentially incriminate a person who is being interrogated in a police station or a court. Legal interpreters can help ensure that questions and answers are effectively understood. Failure to provide legal interpreters in some legal contexts may invalidate a contract between two parties or even lead to the wrong person being convicted of an offense they didn’t commit but couldn’t articulate their innocence effectively enough.

    The role of a court interpreter

    A court interpreter has the important role of interpreting what is being asked and answered in a courtroom. It is important to always have a legal interpreter present when the person who may be a witness, an expert, or someone standing trial or giving evidence does not have the skills to communicate in the official language used in the court. 


    It is incumbent on all those in charge of legal processes to hire professional legal interpreters whenever there are situations in which there could be difficulty in communicating in a single language or there could be a significant disadvantage in one or more people not being able to communicate effectively. Professional legal interpreters who are fluent and have a legal background and a good grasp of legal processes and terminology should be hired whenever possible.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *