Published: 29 August 2018

Improving video-mediated interpreting in legal proceedings

Since 2008 Professor Sabine Braun, Professor of Translation Studies and Director of the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Surrey, has led a long-term European project collaboration investigating video-mediated interpreting in legal proceedings.

The motivation for Professor Braun’s research arose from the important role of legal interpreting in Europe, where police and courts require interpreters in more than 100 languages every day, making legal interpreters an essential part of the justice system and crucial to ensuring fairness and efficiency of justice. While justice-sector institutions highlight cost and time savings that can be made with video-mediated interpreting, the separation of the interpreter from other participants also poses a high risk of potential miscarriages of justice through miscommunication. The increasing use of videoconferencing and interpreting in the justice sector since the 2000s therefore required systematic investigation, practice-oriented research and training for legal practitioners and interpreters.

Professor Braun’s research received funding from the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice under the title of AVIDICUS (Assessment of Video-Mediated Interpreting in the Criminal Justice System) and was conducted in three phases between 2008-16.

The first AVIDICUS project (2008-11) involved the use of surveys and experimental studies with legal interpreters and justice-sector institutions in Europe to compare the interpreting quality achieved with traditional methods of interpreting and in different configurations of video-mediated interpreting. Several training modules were then piloted in stakeholder workshops and guidelines were developed. Research indicated a number of differences between in-person and video-mediated interpreting, especially a reduction in accuracy and completeness of the interpreters’ performance in video-mediated interpreting, a perception of a reduced sense of presence, and an earlier onset of fatigue.  

The aims of AVIDICUS 2 (2011-13) were to further investigate the impact of different variables on video-mediated interpreting including training levels, interpreter experience, and video technology quality. To this end, comparative studies were conducted with the same interpreters as AVIDICUS 1, but this time providing them with short-term training and better equipment. In observational studies of real-life proceedings, the project also explored differences in the communicative dynamics of traditional and video-mediated interpreting such as the way speakers assign turns, intervene for clarification or resolve overlapping speech. Whilst some improvements of adaptive behaviour were observed, communication problems remained despite initial training and improved technology quality. The analysis of the communicative dynamics also revealed differences between traditional and video-mediated settings where the latter seemed to show a reduction in the quality interpretation and a greater fragmentation of communication. The research indicated that a replication of all aspects of face-to-face interpreting may not be the most effective solution for video-mediated proceedings.

AVIDICUS 3 (2013-16) focused more on the design and implementation of bilingual video conferencing solutions. The main aim was to carry out a comprehensive assessment of existing and planned video conferencing solutions in order to evaluate whether these were fit for the purpose. This involved fieldwork in a number of European countries and interviews with different stakeholder groups. Observed factors included physical and geographical distribution of the participants, types of equipment and transmission, room layout and seating positioning, and participant video conferencing experience.

The AVIDICUS projects were coordinated by the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Surrey who set up a consortium which included several research institutions such as KU Leuven and Institut Télécom Paris as well as relevant governmental bodies, legal professionals, and legal interpreters. The research in AVIDICUS 3 triggered the development of further training and a comprehensive handbook on bilingual video conferencing. Based on the insight that onsite training can be costly or impractical, AVIDICUS 3 has developed an innovative method for using the medium of video conference to deliver training in bilingual video conferencing.

Professor Braun’s research has enriched the knowledge base of project partners and key stakeholder groups, and her studies have led to the design of research-led but practical solutions that aim at mitigating current problems of video-mediated interpreting. Ultimately, the main goal of the AVIDICUS research has been to maintain and improve the quality of legal interpreting ensuring it is accessible to all citizens regardless of their needs for linguistic mediation.

Since 2015, this work has continued in the European SHIFT project (2015-18, coordinated by the University of Bologna), where Professor Braun and her colleague Dr Elena Davitti, Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies, currently investigate specific features of the interaction in video-mediated interpreting in community and healthcare settings, developing educational materials for these contexts.

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