Observing sign language interpreters in court, not as easy as you’d think!

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Observing sign language interpreters in court, not as easy as you’d think!

Guest blogger, Terese Weiss, Clarion Staff Interpreter, tells us her tale:

As a BSL interpreter with a free afternoon in town, what better way to spend it observing colleagues working in Court from the public gallery – and to boot gain a bit of an insight into Court processes involving deaf people? Well, so I thought. As I discovered, there are many different ways to attempt just that, some more enjoyable than others. Had my sign language interpreter hat been on, perhaps I would have prepared better and made less assumptions; but it wasn’t. So, I dallied along to the Public Gallery assuming I would simply swan in by mere virtue of being early. What followed had nothing to do with any amount of swanning but a lot of waddling and paddling in circles – and I am as of yet to make it into the actual Gallery.

Approaching the outside entrance, two queues had formed, one left one right. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a lawyer by his toe… I went left and waited. And waited. Then a door at the front opened and let in the left queue. Family and relatives only! Felt like I had been denied access to an exclusive nightclub by the bouncers and had to leg it over to the ever growing queue on the right. More waiting. I struck up a conversation with a few people in the queue, all legal secretaries in training, and all bent on seeing a murder trial. ‘The more victims the better’, one added matter-of-factly. The rain must have made them particularly morbid, rather excusable as it was a foul day, but thought perhaps another time I would pick a sunny day to go to the gallery all the same.

Eventually the queue slow-motioned itself forward within the promise of the door. Only then can you see the notice informing you that no phones are allowed into the court. Now it was my time to become morbid and flap around for good measure. Eventually some kind soul told me I could go down to the nearby travel agency and deposit my phone, at a cost of course. So, few minutes later I was back at the end of the queue again, and waited and waited. When eventually in and past the security (less the water just bought) there was an intriguing hullabaloo about which courtroom to go to. The security man thought no. 12, 14, 15 or maybe even 1, his colleague was adamant it was 7 – unless it was 2. I was sent onto another two clerks whom came up with their own mismatching series of lotto numbers. Calls were made, the plot thickened. At any rate I was at the wrong side of the building and would need to go back out and reenter at the back of the building. Then it transpired that the session I wanted to observe had gone into ‘legal discussion’ and might only last a short time – or not.

So, I legged it back out of the rabbit-warren and found the apparently right entrance. Again, I was frisked airport style. This security lady was more assiduous. My emergency ration of 5 peanuts were confiscated, no reclaim later. Holding up a small bag, she asked: ‘is this chocolate?’. There was no point denying the fact, I admitted guilty as charged. As it happened it was very expensive chocolate. More specifically, it was very expensive chocolate I was not prepared to part with against the mere possibility of perhaps not even getting to the gallery before today’s session was over. Claiming it back, I was informed I could wait outside till the perhaps soon session end, in case I wanted to at least catch the interpreters afterwards. By now it had started to rain, but I chanced it, waiting again but at least comforted by not-perhaps-but-definitely one too many helpings of the chocolate.

The discussion went on longer than (perhaps – or not) expected. In the end I simply gave up and drowned the whole misadventure in a pot of tea in the nearest cafe. Mulling over the attempt, I thought I did at least get some insight into the court’s running. In fact, I might even have another stab at it next time a work gap allows… or not!

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  1. Nigel at - Reply


    My initial comment seems to have disappeared?

    Well just to reiterate my point I will try to summarise my initial comment. My feeling is that the ‘day in the life…’ blog by Julia Anderson is very interesting and clearly describes the day from an interpreters point of view. The point I was trying to make however, is that whilst this lifestyle seems very interesting, fulfilling and enjoyable for the interpreter, a thought should be spared for them and their families. Many interpreters I have spoken to have had marital problems and extramarital affairs due to their demanding lifestyles. The role requires staff interpreters to work away from home for large chunks of the year and to operate within an irregular work pattern. This seems to be a demand by the agencies and allows for very difficult planning for personal lives. Most interpreters may not know exactly where they will be from one week to the next or if they do, it often requires working long distances away from home. Julia has emphasised the long hours and early starts but it is also the requirements for travelling on weekends which can lead to interpreters only seeing their loved ones for 1-2 days per week.

    For the sake of interpreters and their families, agencies should really make this their prime concern, not just the profit margin!!! Clarion could you lead by example???

    A very concerned Nigel!!

  2. Sally at - Reply

    Dear Nigel – thank you for your comments. I have done some looking and it has not disappeared – you posted it under the blog about observing interpreters instead. Kind regards Sally

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