On 1 November 2017, the European Commission in Cyprus in co-operation with the European University of Cyprus (School of Law and School of Humanities, Social and Education Sciences) and the Cultural Academy “Kypropaideia” organized a #TranslatingEurope Workshop titled “Court Interpreting and Legal Translation in Cyprus”. The workshop was organized as part of the #TranslatingEurope initiative of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission and was intended, among others, for legal professionals, judges, public service officials, professional translators and interpreters, the academia, relevant NGOs, etc.
The Panhellenic Association of Professional Translators Graduates of the Ionian University was there to support the initiative, get informed and relay the interesting presentations and discussions.
The Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission (DGT) is one of the largest translation services in the world and has traditionally maintained relations with various stakeholders in the field of translation, such as universities, the language industry, national language institutes, translation services of public administrations in the Member States, professional translators’ associations, etc.
The workshop focused on the state of play with regard to the provision of translation services during trial proceedings in criminal cases, but also during the interpretation process for police interrogations in Cyprus, in particular with regard to the implementation of Directive 2010/64/EU (the Directive was transposed into Cypriot national law in 2014) and Directive 201213/ΕΕ (the Directive was transposed into Cypriot national law in 2014).
Court interpreting is necessary in courts, such as e.g. in testimonies of foreign witnesses, and where a legal proceeding is held, such as in police headquarters for an interrogation, a conference room for a deposition or an area designated for taking a sworn statement.
Furthermore, the conference examined other related issues, such as the provision of interpretation and translation services in the asylum process and the field of legal translation in Cyprus.
After the initial remarks by Christos Ellinides, Deputy Director General of the DGT, and Isabelle Perignon, Head of the Unit “Procedural Criminal Law” at the DGT for Justice and Consumers of the European Commission, the first panel took the floor to discuss about the implementation of the Directive 2016/64/EU. The panel consisted of Stefanos Vlachopoulos, Professor at the Technological Educational Institute of Epirus, Tehodoros Vyzas, Research Associate at the same Institute, Anastasia Pilottou, President of the Pancyprian Union of Graduate Translators & Interpreters (PanUTI), Elias Georgiou, S.D.J. at the Larnaca – Famagusta District Court and Stelios Avgoustis, President of Cyprus Bar Association of Young Lawyers. Unfortunately, Michalis Politis, Associate professor at the Ionian University was unable to attend, but his presentation was given by Mr. Vyzas.
They all agreed on the fact that court interpreting is one serious matter and should not be taken lightly by the Cypriot government. Despite the fact that the Directive has been incorporated into national legislation, there are fundamental problems pertaining to its implementation. As is the case in Greece, no specific criteria have been set to prove the professional capability of court registered interpreters. This means that court lists include semi-qualified professionals, or even ad-hoc interpreters, that could be detrimental to the defendant. There are no professional rules or codes of conduct, and no information regarding the case and the procedures. Since there is no School of Translation at a University level in Cyprus, the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice should dictate the minimum qualifications that an interpreter should have to be allowed in court proceedings. Perhaps the Cypriot government should inaugurate an educational programme, a certification of sorts, including terminology on civil, criminal and family law. It should be noted that the official languages of Cyprus are both Greek and Turkish but for the time being only Greek is used in court proceedings. Keep in mind that the defendant always has the right to use Turkish, or even English in order to defend himself, which may cause more problems. An educational programme should also include training for the interpreters to avoid awkward situations, such as pressure from the defendant’s attorney to guide the outcome of the trial. In such an environment, one single word can affect the outcome of the entire trial, so the interpreter is vulnerable against peer pressure, bribes, even extortions. Mr. Politis and Ms. Pilottou underlined the importance of a well-structured educational programme at a university level, which should include basic legal knowledge, maybe even taught by lawyers, in order for interpreters to understand the notions of legal terminology. The programme should also include basic cultural differences which, most often than not, hinder the communication process. It is never enough for an interpreter or a translator to know foreign languages, but he or she should also be trained in correct interpreting methods and policies. Nevertheless, at any moment during the judicial process, the defendant or his/her attorney may contest the quality of the translated documents or the performance of the interpreter and halt the trial. There are several cases that have been rejected in Cyprus due to bad translation. A framework dictating this procedure could prove beneficial to avoid related hurdles.
Moving on to the second panel: Konstantinos Tsimaras, Assistant Professor and Acting Dean of the School of Law at the European University of Nicosia, Thalia Prastitou – Merdi, Lecturer at the European University of Cyprus, Marios Papaevriviades, Police Lieutenant at the Nicosia Criminal Investigation Department, Theofano Michaelides from the reviewing Authority of Refugees, Dimitra Karoulla-Vrikki, Associate Professor at the European University of Cyprus and Giorgos V. Georgiou, Director of the Cultural Academy “Kypropaideia” and Scientific Collaborator at the University of Athens approached the subject of Translation and Interpretation in police settings and for migrants, as well as the implementation of Directive 2012/13/EU.
This panel presented us with a more hands-on approach as to the problems that arise during the selection process of translators and interpreters, by touching the sensitive subject of migrants and aliens that have entered the country over the recent few troubled years. According to the judges, it is always difficult to find available interpreters, not only for the “rare” languages, such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Pashto and the like, but also for the more common ones, mostly because the remuneration is very low. Apart from that, most of the times those interpreters that do show up might get emotional and have to stop interpreting, especially in cases regarding torture, beatings or rapes. A questionnaire that was distributed among them shed some light on the difficulties that they face: most of the times they have no knowledge of the events and that makes it difficult for them to understand the migrants, they have to be on call 24/7 and travel to different cities at all hours. The migrants often fake ignorance, in order to stay in the country and not get deported and try to gain the favour of the interpreter for their own benefit. One interpreter said that she prefers to wear fake glasses in order to create a visual barrier between herself and the interviewees; that makes her job easier. The audience was also informed on the important job done by the Refugee Review Committee, which unfortunately uses untrained and ad-hoc interpreters, for the lack of a better option.
The sessions were concluded with the third panel on the challenges and drawbacks of Legal Translation. Georgios Kentrotis, Professor at the Ionian University, Giorgios Manikas, LLM Public law, European University of Cyprus, Sophie Michaelidou, Director of the Press and Information Office in Cyprus, Theodoros Vyzas, Research Associate at the TEI of Epirus, Stephanos Vlachopoulos, Professor at the TEi of Epirus and Thalia Prastitou-Merdi, Lecturer at the European University of Cyprus, wondered if it takes the same skill to translate a simple business document and the Justinian Codex. They are both legal texts, right? There are fundamental issues regarding the official languages of the European Union, which are not the same as the working languages of the EU. Furthermore, every member state has its own legislative system, with different notions and meanings. So the question that arises regarding the translation of the multilingual EU legislation is the following: should the translator translate based on lingual equity (word-for-word) or based on legal homogeneity (same legal result in both languages)? Many times there have been misunderstandings because of terminology: some people still confuse simple terms, such as translation and interpretation! Especially in the Cyprus case, there’s also an additional conundrum: the legislation was first edited by the British, initially for India, and was then incorporated in the Cypriot legislative system. Nevertheless, the conclusion was that the legal lingo needs to be revised in order to reflect the modern-day needs of the country.
At the end of the day, Cyprus recognises that the contribution of properly trained and educated translators and interpreters is of the outmost importance, not only for migration policy issues, but also for everyday instances; Cyprus is a country that hosts various nationalities, and should ensure the respect of human rights, including the right to communicate.
You may watch the presentations (in Greek) here: