Non-English-speaking defendants in the magistrates court
: a comparative study of face-to-face and prison video link interpreter-mediated hearings in England

  • Yvonne Fowler

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study compares interpreter-mediated face-to-face Magistrates Court hearings with those
conducted through prison video link in which interpreters are located in court and non-
English-speaking defendants in prison. It seeks to examine the impact that the presence of
video link has on court actors in terms of interaction and behaviour. The data comprises 11
audio-recordings of face-to-face hearings, 10 recordings of prison video link hearings, semistructured
interviews with 27 court actors, and ethnographic observation of hearings as viewed by defendants in Wormwood Scrubs prison in London. The over-arching theme is the pervasive influence of the ecology of the courtroom upon all court actors in interpretermediated
hearings and thus on the communication process. Close analysis of the court transcripts shows that their relative proximity to one another can be a determinant of status,
interpreting role, mode and volume. The very few legal protocols which apply to interpretermediated
cases (acknowledging and ratifying the interpreter, for example), are often forgotten or dispensed with. Court interpreters lack proper training in the specific challenges of court interpreting, whether they are co-present with the defendant or not. Other court actors often
misunderstand the interpreter’s role. This has probably come about because courts have
adjusted their perceptions of what they think interpreters are supposed to do based on their
own experiences of working with them, and have gradually come to accept poor practice (the
inability to perform simultaneous interpreting, for example) as the norm. In video link courts,
mismatches of sound and image due to court clerks’ failure to adequately track current
speakers, poor image and sound quality and the fact that non-English-speaking defendants in
pre-and post-court consultations can see and hear interpreters but not their defence advocates
are just some of the additional layers of disadvantage and confusion already suffered by non-
English-speaking defendants. These factors make it less likely that justice will be done.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKrzysztof Kredens (Supervisor)


  • interpreting studies
  • courtroom interaction
  • prison video link
  • forensic linguistics
  • court interpreting

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