Do justice to court interpreters in South Africa

  • S Lebese
Keywords: court interpreters, legislation, norms, standards of practice


Many countries have developed statutory provisions governing norms and standards of practice (NSPs) for court interpreters. However, in South Africa, in the case of State versus Naidoo (1962:631), Judge Williamson states that “in relation to the courts of this country, there appears to be no statutory provision, Rule of Court or regulation governing the position of interpreters”. If Judge Williamson’s statement is true, court interpreters could be perceived as working without proper guidance from a statute containing NSPs for court interpreters. This situation might result in court interpreters working according to their own personal preferences, each creating and abiding by his or her own NSPs. In turn, this could lead to poor interpreting practices, as there would be no application of common NSPs which court interpreters are to follow and for which they need to be held accountable. The aim of this study is to investigate whether the statement by Judge Williamson is true, and if so, how the lack of NSPs for court interpreters could affect their work. This aim was achieved by examining the Personnel Administration Standard for Court Interpreters, contained in the Public Service Code, which relates to the employment of court interpreters in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development of South Africa; the Magistrates’ Court Act 44 of 1944 (as amended); the Oath of Office of Interpreters in terms of Rule 68 (1) of the Magistrates’ Court Act 44 of 1944 (as amended); the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996 (as amended), and extracts from some case studies (Lebese 2011, 2013). The study revealed that the four documents do not make any reference to NSPs for court interpreters. The study concludes with a recommendation for the need of a statute governing court-interpreting issues in the broadest sense, including NSPs.

Keywords: court interpreters, legislation, norms, standards of practice


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eISSN: 2224-3380