International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 22, No 2 (2015)

Judges’ intervention in witness examination as a cause of omissions in interpretation in the Hong Kong courtroom

Eva Nga Shan Ng
Issued Date: 6 Nov 2015


Research on court interpreting has by and large pointed to the court interpreters’ incompetence or otherwise lack of training as the main cause of inaccuracy or non-equivalence in their rendition of the source-language (SL) speaker’s message into the target language (TL). Drawing on the authentic data of nine criminal trials from the courts of Hong Kong, this study demonstrates judges’ intervention in witness examination as a cause of omissions in court interpreting. This study is situated in the bilingual Hong Kong courtroom, where the interpreting service in a trial conducted in English is a sine qua non due to the linguistic dichotomy between English-speaking legal professionals and Cantonese-speaking lay litigants. The access of non-English-speaking (NES) participants to utterances produced in English in witness examination is made possible by the interpretation provided in the consecutive mode in open court. This study illustrates how a judge’s intervention in the proceedings can lead to omissions and/or a change from the consecutive mode to the more restrictive chuchotage mode of interpreting and discusses how this may impact on the participation status of NES court actors and potentially compromise the administration of justice. It concludes by suggesting solutions to the problems identified.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.v22i2.17782


Angermeyer, P. S. (2009) Translation style and participant roles in court interpreting. Journal of Sociolinguistics 13(1): 3–28.

AUSIT (2012) Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. Retrieved on 1 August 2015 from

Berk-Seligson, S. (1990) The Bilingual Courtroom: Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Berk-Seligson, S. (1999) The impact of court interpreting on the coerciveness of leading questions. Forensic Linguistics 6(1): 30–56.

Berk-Seligson, S. (2002) The Bilingual Courtroom: Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process: with a New Chapter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cheung, A. K. F. (2012) The use of reported speech by court interpreters in Hong Kong. Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting 14(1): 73–91.

Colin, J. and Morris, R. (1996) Interpreters and the Legal Process. Winchester: Waterside Press.

Damaska, M. R. (1975) Presentation of evidence and factfinding precision. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 123(5): 1083–1106.

Danet, B. and Bogoch, B. (1980) Fixed fight or free-for-all? An empirical study of combativeness and the adversary system of justice. British Journal of Law and Society 7(1): 36–60.

De Jongh, E. M. (1992) An Introduction to Court Interpreting: Theory and Practice. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Duff, P. (1992) Juries: A Hong Kong perspective. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Fowler, Y., Ng, E. and Coulthard, M. (2012) Legal interpreting. In C. Millán and F. Bartrina (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Translation Studies 417–414. Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

Goffman, E. (1981) Forms of Talk. Oxford: Blackwell.

Grice, H. P. (1975) Logic and conversation. In P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (eds) Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Act 41–58. New York: Academic Press.

Hale, S. (1999) Interpreters’ treatment of discourse markers in courtroom questions. Forensic Linguistics 6(1): 57–82.

Hale, S. (2002) How faithfully do court interpreters render the style of non-English speaking witnesses’ testimonies? A data-based study of Spanish–English bilingual proceedings. Discourse Studies 4(1): 25–47.

Hale, S. (2004) The Discourse of Court Interpreting: Discourse Practices of the Law, the Witness and the Interpreter. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Hale, S. and Gibbons, J. (1999) Varying realities: patterned changes in the interpreter’s representation of courtroom and external realities. Applied Linguistics 20(2): 203–220.

Hazard, G. C., Jr and Dondi, A. (2006) Responsibilities of judges and advocates in civil and common law: some lingering misconceptions concerning civil lawsuits. Faculty Scholarship Series, Paper 2329. Retrieved on 11 August 2014 from

Heffer, C. (2005) The Language of Jury Trial: A Corpus-Aided Analysis of Legal-Lay Discourse. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hussein, N. M. A. (2011) Legal Interpreting in the Criminal System: An Exploratory Study. PhD thesis, De Montfort University, Leicester. Retrieved on 22 September 2011 from

Judiciary (2003) Basic Guidelines for Part-time Court Interpreters. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Government.

Kolm, D. (1999) Taking the Interpreter’s Oath to Heart: An Introduction to the Requirements for Interpreting in Federal Courts. Washington D.C: Federal Judicial Television Network (FJTN).

Koo, A. (2009) Truth through court interpreters. International Journal of Evidence and Proof 13: 212–24.

Lee, J. (2012) A discourse-analytic study of judges’ interruptions in Korean courtroom trials. Journal of Linguistic Studies (언어학연구) 17(1): 73–97.

Levinson, S. C. (1988) Putting linguistics on a proper footing: explorations in Goffman’s participation framework. In P. Drew and A. Wootton (eds) Goffman: Exploring the Interaction Order 161–227. Oxford: Polity Press.

Liao, M. (2009) A study of interruption in Chinese criminal courtroom discourse. Text and Talk 29(2): 175–199.

Liao, M. (2013) Power in interruption in Chinese criminal courtroom discourse. In C. Williams and G. Tessuto (eds) Language in the Negotiation of Justice: Contexts, Issues and Applications 33–48. Farnham: Ashgate.

Mikkelson, H. (1999) Training judges and other court personnel. The Polyglot 30(3). Retrieved on 14 March 2014 from

Moser-Mercer, B., Künzli, A. and Korac, M. (1998) Prolonged turns in interpreting: effects on quality, physiological and psychological stress. Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting 3(5): 47–65.

NAJIT (2010) Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities. Retrieved on 11 June 2010 from

Ng, E. (2009) The tension between adequacy and acceptability in legal interpreting and translation. In S. Hale, U. Ozolins and L. Stern (eds) The Critical Link 5: Quality Interpreting – A Shared Responsibility 37–54. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ng, E. (2013a) Garment, or upper-garment? A matter of interpretation? International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 26(3): 597–613.

Ng, E. (2013b) The Atypical Bilingual Courtroom: An Exploratory Study of the Interactional Dynamics in Interpreter-mediated Trials in Hong Kong. PhD dissertation, Aston University.

Ng, E. (2015) Juror comprehension in English-medium trials in the Hong Kong Courtroom. Paper presented at the Biennial Conference on Forensic Linguistics (IAFL12), 6–9 July, Guangzhou, China.

Ng, K. H. (2009) The Common Law in Two Voices: Language, Law, and the Postcolonial Dilemma in Hong Kong. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ozolins, U. and Hale, S. (2009) Quality in interpreting: a shared responsibility. In S. Hale, U. Ozolins and L. Stern (eds) The Critical Link 5: Quality Interpreting – A Shared Responsibility 1–10. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pöllabauer, S. (2004) Interpreting in asylum hearings: issues of role, responsibility and power. Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting 6(2): 143–180.

Rigney, A. C. (1999) Questioning in interpreted testimony. Forensic Linguistics 6(1): 83–108.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A. and Jefferson, G. (1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50(4): 696–735.

Salhany, R. E. (2006) Cross-examination: The Art of the Advocate (3rd edn) Markham, Ont.: LexisNexis Canada.

Silverman, D. (2006) Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analyzing Talk, Text, and Interaction (3rd edn). London: SAGE Publications.

Sin, K. K. and Djung, J. S. H. (1994) The Court Interpreters’ Office. In M. S. Gaylord and H. Traver (eds.) Introduction to the Hong Kong Criminal Justice System 137–144. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Zimmerman, D. H. and West, C. (1975) Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversation. In B. Thorne and N. Henley (eds), Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance 105–129. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy