Lack of Professional Interpreters in Korean Courts
From The Korea Times
By Park Si-soo
All are equal before the law regardless of gender and race. However, foreigners may not have their voices heard during trials due to a lack of professional interpreters in Korea.
Unlike courts in America, Australia and European countries, Korea has yet to adopt a court interpreter accreditation system, which makes it mandatory for courts to hire certified professional interpreters for foreign nationals.
But many said the time has come for Korea to adopt the system as the country becomes more multi-racial and thus more multi-lingual.
Korean law does not have any provisions on the issue, which means any Korean or foreigner can stand in a courtroom as an interpreter after winning approval from a presiding judge.
Fortunately, though belated, scholars and interpreters have recently teamed up with the Supreme Court to study foreign interpretation systems, a prerequisite step for the introduction of certified court interpreters in local courtrooms.
``Certified court interpreters are necessary to upgrade the domestic court system in the wake of a sudden jump in the number of cases involving foreign nationals,'' Prof. Kwak Joong-chol at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies' graduate school of interpretation and translation told The Korea Times, Monday. ``Under the current court system of not requiring a certificate, nobody guarantees the quality of their interpretation and thus human rights of foreigners cannot be protected.''
According to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, 1,936 foreigners stood in criminal trials as defendants in 2006. During the first half of 2007, 1,347 foreigners were brought to trial, the latest record available. But there are only 164 court interpreters, mostly working at courts in Seoul and suburban areas.
Kwak, a guru for Korean-English simultaneous interpretation, has played a leading role in raising awareness about the importance of certified court interpreters for the sake of a fair and unbiased trial.
On Thursday, the school's Interpretation and Translation Research Institute hosted an international academic conference at the school in Seoul to share ideas and seek efficient ways to adopt the court interpretation system. It was the first international conference of its kind in the country. Deputies from America, Australia, European countries and Japan took part in the meeting to introduce their education programs and certification process for court interpreters.
``Throughout the conference, I have learned that giving exclusive rights of interpreting in a courtroom to certified interpreters is the best way to guarantee interpretation quality and keep court hearings confidential.''
He stressed court interpreters should reproduce the original speech in the target language as closely as possible to the style and register of the original speaker. The court interpreter must have comprehensive knowledge about the legal system and foreign culture, he added.
There was a case that a Korean mother offered testimony in a U.S. court on an accident, in which her son was killed by collapsed bookshelf. During the testimony, she cried out, saying, ``I killed him. I'm the criminal.'' The U.S. court saw the remarks as a confession and put her behind bars on homicide charges. But in fact her remark ``I killed him'' doesn't mean she really killed her son. It refers to ``I am to blame'' in Korean. ``This case proves the importance of comprehensive knowledge about foreign linguistic culture to provide meticulous court interpretation,'' Kwak said.
Judge Park Seong-soo of the Supreme Court's international affairs department said, ``We are fully aware that certified court interpreters are necessary in local courtrooms. We will do our utmost efforts to introduce the system as early as possible.''