Stand-in interpreter risks case with ‘pathetic’ translation

2014-03-04 00:00

THE state’s first witness in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial yesterday opted to testify in English after the court interpreter did not translate her Afrikaans testimony accurately.

Legal experts described the interpreting of Michelle Burger’s testimony by the court’s stand-in interpreter Veruschka Bosch as “scandalous and pathetic”.

“Don’t cry, you are doing well,” Burger, a neighbour who lived near the house in which Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp, at one stage told Bosch when she crumpled under the intense pressure.

The court proceedings were delayed by more than 90 minutes after the court’s original interpreter reportedly did not feel up to translating under the intense scrutiny of the world’s media.

Bosch had to step into the breach at the last moment to help, but Burger kept on correcting Bosc­h and often repeated her statements.

One of the serious errors Bosch made was translating Burger’s explanation of the four shots she heard.

Judge Thokozile Masipa eventually asked Burger: “Is there a difficulty between you and the interpreter?”

Burger hesitated then said: “She is interpreting what I am saying. Some of the words are not what I am saying and then I am correcting in English.”

A criminal law attorney at Kempton Park, Riaan Louw, said small details given during testimony can swing a case.

“If the shots followed each other quickly, it will support the defence’s case that Pistorius thought there was an intruder. If there was a shot, then a pause followed by the rest of the shots, it will support the state’s case that Pistorius had time to think before he shot,” said Louw.

A criminal law attorney from Pretoria, Jaco du Plessis, said it was the interpreter’s duty to translate the testimony word for word to the court, even if the witness swore. If this did not happen, it creates ground for an application for review or appeal, Du Plessis explained.

Wessie Wessels, also a criminal law attorney from Pretoria, described Bosch’s translation as scandalous and pathetic.

“One would expect that [the state] would have ensured that the interpreter can translate properly while the world’s eyes are on the court proceedings,” Wessels said.

All three legal experts said they are daily confronted by poor translations in the courts.

The Department of Justice could not be reached for comment.

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