The European Court of Justice

Our visit to the European Court of Justice was very interesting and informative. In my opinion, this was one of the most impressive and modern courts we saw. We toured many other, older courts that were very beautiful because of the age and architecture, but this court was beautiful and modern. First we were given a quick explanation of the case we were going to observe. I was surprised to learn that other countries, countries that are not actual parties to the suit, can actually intervene and become parties. They usually do this when they have a vested interest in the outcome, such as when they have similar questions of law in their own countries and the decision might affect them. One of the most interesting dynamics of this court is the language barrier. Every case is translated into the language of both parties, and French and English. The translators handle the real-time translation very well. Or seemed to, as I would not actually have known if the translations were accurate. The translators seemed to be translating to roughly the same speed as the actual speaker. The entire process did give me a little headache, though. I think it was because I was trying to pay attention to both the actual speakers and the translators, and it is just a lot to take in at once. I’m fairly certain most of my classmates had similar experiences, as well. It could have been a lack of sleep, or too much time spent in trains, or possibly the discombobulating effect of listening to a translator, but I think everyone was very tired after observing the court proceedings. I usually find court proceedings very interesting, and don’t often get tired, but I was very tired, as well.

In addition to the need to translate in real-time for court proceedings, all documents must also be translated and this takes a very long time. This is understandable considering some of the complex issues that the court deals with and the need to have all documents translated into so many languages. Again, even thinking about it was beginning to give me a small headache, so I can’t imagine the reality of working in a court with so much translating going on. Another interesting issue is considering, not just the real implications of translations, but the legal implications of the translations. In class, many cases sometimes hinge on the precise definitions of certain words and an entire case can be about the different definitions and ambiguity of a word. I can’t imagine how a lawyer would even begin to address the ambiguities of translated words. From what I have heard, a certain amount of translation is a discretionary call. For example, a word in English usually has several synonyms, but in Spanish, there may be only one word, and vice-versa. Another issue is that translators are human and sometimes make mistakes. This mistake can be compounded sometimes because, some documents are translated into French, for example, and then the French translation may be used to translate to Italian, and so on. A mistake can be carried over into many languages when this occurs. Despite all this, our guest speakers spoke very highly of the translators’ abilities and insisted that, though mistakes do happen, they don’t happen very often.

– KB

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