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Is Justice Lost in the Translation? Court Interpreting in the Philippines​

Isabel Pefianco Martin

Date of publication:

December 31, 2013

In the Philippines, legal proceedings have been conducted and continue to be carried out predominantly in English, a language that is not accessible to many Filipinos, especially in its form as a legal register. The Philippine judicial system has always been known to be anti-poor. Its weaknesses, which involve more than language issues, are further reinforced by the continued dominance of a language that makes justice elusive to the needy. Recognizing that English may represent a language barrier in the court rooms, and in its desire to expedite the handling of cases by eliminating translations and interpretations, the Supreme Court directed trial courts in Bulacan to conduct proceedings in Filipino, the national language. This move, which is known as the 2007 Bulacan Experiment, may be considered to have failed in that only one trial court persisted in the practice of delivering justice in Filipino, a language known to its stakeholders. All other trial courts continue to conduct hearings in English and thus, rely heavily on translations and interpretations. This paper looks into the practice of court interpreting in the Philippines. In particular, the paper hopes to describe and analyze the practice of court interpreting practices, as well as identify the challenges Filipino interpreters face in the courtroom. In the end, I hope to draw implications for a more appropriate language policy for legal proceedings in the Philippines.

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