The Importance of an interpreter in the Court Room

A discussion with Aviva Galai, attorney and mediator, at Lev Natarevich & Co. Law Office, specializing in insurance and tort litigation

During a court trial, clear communication between all parties, including the judge, the lawyers, the complainant and the respondent, is vital.

But what happens when the complainant is not a native speaker of the language? Can this affect the course of the trial? The answer is most definitely – yes!

This is the challenge faced by Aviva Galai, a lawyer at the Lev Natarevich & Co. Law Office.

Aviva’s firm, based in Israel, frequently handles cases of immigrants from Russian and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Most of them, particularly the older generation, do not communicate well in Hebrew and are often left to deal on their own with government offices and documentation and local authority bureaucracy.

Such was the case with one of Aviva’s clients.

The client, a woman in her 50s with little knowledge of Hebrew, was given an 80% disability rating by the Israel National Insurance Institute ,which made her eligible for various financial aid benefits, including a mobility allowance and a loan toward the cost of a car. In her case, since she could not drive on her own, she was assigned a designated driver– her partner.

To prevent abuse of this benefit, the National Security Institute would visit her house every 3 years to make sure that she was still living with the same partner and that he wasn’t driving the car for his own personal use.

Miscommunication led to discontinuation of the financial aid

Over the years, these home visits went smoothly and no problems arose with the allowance.

However, on the last visit, in 2015, the inspectors questioned the woman, in Hebrew of course, while she was home alone without anyone to translate for her, leading to a total misunderstanding of her situation. The inspector understood from her that she was no longer in a relationship with her partner, which meant that she was no longer entitled to mobility aid, and, therefore, he canceled the benefit. His assessment of the situation was, of course, mistaken, and the lady turned to Aviva for legal assistance.

“This disabled woman came to my office and explained in Russian exactly what took place during the official’s visit,” said Aviva. “Apparently the inspector noticed that the lady and her partner no longer sleep in the same bed, but didn’t understand that it was due to the pain she suffered at night. He was still taking care of her, and sharing his life with her as before, but that night he wanted to give her some space so slept in another room. My client was very upset as she couldn’t understand or communicate satisfactorily, and now the financial aid she depends on so much was no longer there.”

Turning to Lichi Translation for help in the court room

At this point Ms. Galai took the case to court in an effort to win back her client’s allowance. She turned to Lichi Translations in order to assign the best interpreter available.

“There are several requirements that a court interpreter must fulfill. Although they don’t need to be up-to-date with legal terminology, they must be able to concentrate very well. Everyone speaks quickly, and the interpreter needs to listen to different important messages that are being spoken at the same time. My client, for example, speaks very quickly and so did the rest of the courtroom attendees.

Every single word has a tremendous impact in the courtroom.

“Some words can actually have a double meaning, and this is why Lichi Translations must ensure we get the right person for the job,” says Aviva. “In Russian, the word ‘friend’ can also be translated as ‘lover’. In this particular case, this was a vital point. We had to prove that my client and her life partner were still lovers, sharing their lives and supporting one another. If the translator didn’t succeed in clarifying that in court, the case might well be lost. The judge even asked the interpreter directly to explain the different meanings of the word ‘friend’ in Russian.”

What was the outcome? Well, the wheels of justice turn slowly, but I’ll keep you posted…

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