Culture and the Court Interpreter

An examination of current literature on dealing with potential intercultural miscommunication in the criminal court


  • Tineke Jannink



In New Zealand, interpreters provide ‘vital services for nearly 10,000 hearings a year in more than 150 languages’ (Ministry of Justice chief operating officer, Carl Crafer according to Nichols, 2021). Despite this, the Ministry of Justice Guidelines for Interpreters (Ministry of Justice, 2021) (‘MOJ Guidelines’) provide very limited guidance on how court interpreters are expected to approach issues related to potential intercultural miscommunication. In this paper, I use the phrase ‘potential intercultural miscommunication’ to mean the possibility of otherwise unrecognised interpersonal misunderstandings occurring, due to differing customs, norms, and behaviours. This paper aims to examine the potential for such undetected intercultural miscommunications to occur in the criminal court, the impact they can have and what obligations, if any, should be placed on court interpreters and judges when such issues arise.


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