Translation quality to safeguard procedural guarantees in criminal proceedings: the TIPp project

April 27, 2017 4:57 pm

Our post for today has been written by the MIRAS research group (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), under the title The quality in translation as an element to safeguard procedural guarantees in criminal proceedings: development of resources to help court interpreters (the TIPp project). We hope you enjoy the reading and we wish the TIPp project team all the best.

TIPp project translation quality criminal proceedings 2

Despite its importance to avoid any state of defencelessness of the person being judged, court interpreting has been an under-researched area in Spain until  very recently, especially when compared to other countries such as the USA (Berk-Seligson, 1985; 1990/2002; Dueñas González et al., 1991). Previous research has used interviews and questionnaires as methods of data collection to obtain empirical information about the situation of court interpreting in Spanish courts (see, for instance, Ortega Herráez, 2006; or the SOS-VICs project), but more direct information about how interpreter-mediated communication takes place in a court is virtually non-existent. Liudmila Onos’ (2014) dissertation included the observation of 56 court sessions, but she was not authorised to record them, and this was an important limitation to analyse the linguistic aspects of the interpreted interactions.

tipp_grupoTo help close this knowledge gap, the MIRAS research group from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona has launched a research project called TIPp (Translation and Interpreting in Criminal Proceedings)[1], aimed at describing the reality of court interpreting based on a large corpus of naturally-occurring data (i.e. real interpreter-mediate criminal court proceedings). Researchers from four universities are currently working on this project: Carmen Bestué, Mariana Orozco-Jutorán, Marta Arumí and Anna Gil-Bardají (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Anabel Borja (Universitat Jaume I), Mireia Vargas-Urpi (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) and Francisco Vigier (Universidad Pablo de Olavide).

MIRAS was granted access to the video recordings of criminal trials where interpreting took place in ten criminal courts in Barcelona between 2010 and 2015. In the first stage of the project, the corpus was fed with transcriptions from 55 video recordings of proceedings held during the first half of 2015 (January-June) in which interpreting took place between Spanish (and in sporadic instances, Catalan) and English, French or Romanian.

The transcriptions have been annotated considering Cecilia Wadensjö’s distinction between “talk as text” and “talk as activity” (1998). In other words: we have considered the accuracy of the interpreters’ renditions when compared to original utterances; but we have also considered that spontaneous oral interactions involve interruptions, overlapping, long turns and other aspects that may have a clear impact in interpreters’ renditions, and thus must also be taken into account.

Preliminary results already reflect a high proportion of non-translated utterances, which means that defendants are unable to access some key information during their trials. The first results also point to frequent overlaps between members of the judiciary —it is extremely difficult to provide accurate renditions of overlapping turns, especially if they are long— and high speech rates (more than 200 words per minute) in key parts of the trial, such as the closing arguments and the sentence in voce. The complete results of the project will be made available in forthcoming publications by the members of the research team (see below for a full list).

The results will also be used to create a website and mobile app that will offer online resources to facilitate court interpreter performance, namely a code of good practice, a protocol for conduct in the most frequent situations encountered by court interpreters, a set of guidelines for courtroom personnel on the role of interpreters and how to interact with them, and a database containing the terms most frequently used in criminal proceedings, including comments and two-way translation options between Spanish and the other languages most frequently used in Spanish courts: Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Romanian.

You can access the Catalan version of this post here.

Written by the MIRAS research group (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).

Post edited by Doris Fernandes del Pozo – Journalist, Translator-Interpreter and Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. She is pursuing a PhD as part of the Communication and Contemporary Information Programme of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).


  • Berk-Seligson, Susan (1985). Fallacies in judicial assumptions about bilingual court proceedings: The role of the court interpreter. Paper presented at the Symposium on Law and Language; Georgetown University.
  • Berk-Seligson, Susan (1990/2002). The Bilingual Courtroom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Dueñas González, Roseann; Victoria F. Vásquez and Holly Mikkelson (1991/2012). Fundamentals of court interpretation : theory, policy, and practice. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
  • Onos, Liudmila (2014). La interpretación en el ámbito judicial: el caso del rumano en los tribunales de Barcelona, PhD diss., Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. URL:
  • Ortega Herráez, Juan Miguel (2006). Ortega Herráez, J. M. (2006). Análisis de la Práctica de la Interpretación Judicial en España. El Intérprete frente a su Papel Profesional. PhD diss.. Universidad de Granada. URL:
  • SOS-VICS project:
  • Wadensjö, Cecilia (1998). Interpreting as interaction. New York: Longman.

More information about the project:

  • Arumí, Marta and Mireia Vargas-Urpi (forthcoming). Annotation of interpreters’ conversation management problems and strategies in a corpus of criminal trials in Spain: the case of non-renditions.
  • Bestué, Carmen (forthcoming). El esfuerzo de escucha en la transcripción de los procedimientos penales orales.
  • Bestué, Carmen (forthcoming). Aproximación a la labor del intérprete en los tribunales de justicia: la experiencia de los últimos 6 años en los Juzgados de lo Penal de Barcelona.
  • Orozco-Jutorán, Mariana (forthcoming). The TIPp project: developing technological resources based on the exploitation of oral corpora to improve court interpreting. Intralinea.
  • Orozco-Jutorán, Mariana (forthcoming). Anotación textual de un corpus multilingüe de interpretación judicial a partir de grabaciones de procesos penales reales. Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law.
  • Vargas-Urpi, Mireia (forthcoming). Court interpreting as a shared responsibility: judges and lawyers in a corpus of interpreted criminal proceedings.
  • Vigier, Francisco (forthcoming). Interpreting at Spanish criminal courts: preliminary results of the TIPp project’s corpus of real trials.
  • Website:

[1] The TIPp project has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Reference: FFI2014-55029-R. The main researchers are Dr. Carmen Bestué and Dr. Mariana Orozco-Jutorán from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

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