When parties to a court case do not speak the same language and cannot understand one another, the justice system can break down. Inaccurate interpretation in court hearings and inaccurate translation of case files can potentially have devastating consequences for the final verdict and person’s liberty. That is where court translators come in, to help make the judicial system safer and more just for all.
This becomes even more important in a place where there are two official languages (Albanian and Serbian) - requiring the judicial system to ensure that parties can exercise the right to use one’s native tongue. To support this, UNDP has been working with justice institutions in Kosovo for several years to improve the quality of translation and multilingual services in Kosovo courts. In January-June 2021, UNDP, with the financial assistance of the United Nations Programmatic funds on Rule of Law, supported the Basic Court of Prishtinë/Priština - the biggest Kosovo court - to translate 222 backlogged case files. Interpretation services were provided in 149 different court hearings with many of them related to domestic or gender-based violence cases.
The translation in the judicial system must be accurate while preserving all elements of the original message to ensure a fair and impartial trial. Fortunately, we can say that this is the case in the Court due to the assistance of our international partners UNDP and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo that are providing support to the Basic Court in Prishtinë/Priština in this area. The engagement of quality translators in the Court, the capacity development of translators, and the provision of technical equipment and modern infrastructure for translators have influenced the quality and efficiency of the Court translation '.
In 2020-21, UNDP has also trained court translators. The aim of this training was to advance legal translation skills and enable sharing of their practical experiences and lessons learned. This contributed to harmonizing and standardizing the legal terminology used in courts. The first training session in 2020 focused on impartiality and confidentiality in translation, legal terminology and translation and interpretation techniques. While the second training session in 2021 focused on specific terminology related to business, agriculture, property, taxation, medicine, and cases of domestic violence.
The training included mock trials where each participant took a different role, that of a judge, prosecutor, attorney, defendant, and translator. Other participants acted as jury members and shared their opinions on the quality of translation. These mock trials allowed the trainees to improve their interpretation skills. Support was also provided in the development of a glossary for the court and prosecution translators and interpreters. The glossary has supported the harmonization and standardization of the specialized legal terminology used in Kosovo courts and prosecution offices.
“Given that the role of translators in court proceedings is indispensable, the Training Programme for Court Translators is vital for us translators” said Sanel Fazlji, participant in the training. Another participant Filloreta Hoxha expressed that “The training is very timely and important, especially since there are limited training opportunities for judicial translation. Trainings for judicial translation are aimed at helping the parties to access their legal rights in their own language”.
Equally important, UNDP’s capacity development support for court and prosecution translators extended beyond Kosovo as the project implemented a regional exchange on the topic for Kosovo and North Macedonia court translators. 25 court translators and respective members of translation association benefited from this exchange on areas such as: certification, licensing and appointment of court translators and interpreters, capacity development, standardization of legal terminology. The court translators of Kosovo and North Macedonia learned about each other’s challenges and benefited from by sharing working practices and regional opportunities to help them advance their profession.
Advancing the quality of court translation and ensuring the application of people’s language rights in institutions is imperative to ensure access to justice, increased trust towards justice institutions and for protecting community rights.