Walking a fine line – The legal system and sign language interpreters
Roles and responsibilities
Legal interpreting as an applied linguistic activity has been explored in the literature, with various explorations of the role of legal interpreters from a discourse perspective. Current thinking in interpreting studies classifies the role of the interpreter as a participant in interaction and co-constructor of meaning. Sign language interpreting as a professional practice typically occurs in legal contexts where the deaf person is the complainant, defendant or witness. However, recent research has begun to explore the provision of sign language interpreting for deaf jurors. Drawing on a corpus of 12 qualitative interviews, and with reference to frameworks of discourse and responsibility, this paper presents analyses of perceptions from two key stakeholder groups - sign language interpreters and lawyers - on the level of professional responsibility that each stakeholder feels that sign language interpreters need to adopt in the legal setting, and their perceptions of the role and responsibilities of sign language interpreters in this context. This study reveals that the legal and moral boundaries of meaning attributed to interpreters' responsibilities are blurred, yet both stakeholder groups have their own clear perceptions of the duties attached to the interpreter's position in court. Thus interpreters need to walk a fine line in how they manage their role and responsibilities according to interpreting studies theory while meeting the linguistic needs of their deaf clients in court and adhering to their responsibilities as perceived by the justice system.
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