Technologies In Interpreter-Mediated Criminal Court Hearings: an Actor-Network Theory account of the interpreter’s perception of her role-space

Devaux, Jerome (2017). Technologies In Interpreter-Mediated Criminal Court Hearings: an Actor-Network Theory account of the interpreter’s perception of her role-space. PhD thesis The University of Salford.



Her Majesty’s Courts Service in England and Wales has been subject to various changes within the past seventeen years. New working methods have been adopted, while the introduction of technologies has revolutionised the legal sphere. Since 2000, courts in England and Wales have indeed been increasingly using videoconference (VC) technologies to speed up the legal process, to enhance security, and to reduce costs, all of this in a context of budgetary constraints. Such VC pieces of equipment mean that all parties are not required to be physically in attendance in court for a case to be heard. In fact, a defendant may attend his pre trial court hearing from his detention centre since the courtroom and the prison will be linked via cameras, screens, and microphones. Interestingly, the court interpreter can be called to interpret in either location.

Even though some may embrace the advent of technological tools available in court interpreting, the effect that they may have is still unknown. Some studies have explored various linguistic and para-linguistic features of Videoconference Interpreting (VCI). However, although the court interpreter’s role, from a conduit to that of an active participant, has been widely researched in Interpreting Studies (e.g. Hale, 2008; Martin and Ortega Herráez, 2009), the role of the court interpreter when interpreting via VC systems is an under-researched field.

In this context, this thesis examines the interpreter’s perception of her role, whether she is located in court or in prison, through the analysis of eighteen interviews conducted with practising court interpreters. Building on research carried out on the use of VCI in court and the court interpreter’s role in a face to face setting, this study adopts an interdisciplinary approach by examining the interpreter’s role perception through the lens of role-space and that of Actor Network Theory.

It is argued that the interpreter’s perception of her role-space varies, depending on whether she considers herself, in Actor-Network Theory terms, as a primum movens or not, alongside the role-space axes of presentation of self, participant alignment, and/or interaction management. Furthermore, the court interpreter deploys many-but-mostly-covert role interessement devices to ensure that the other court actors rally on the interpreter’s perception of her role. This thesis ends with various recommendations as to how the court interpreter can re-align her role-space when interpreting in VCI.

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