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Intercepting with Interpreters

The work of interpreters during the interception of communications in the framework of criminal investigations

SNSF Project 100011_184896, 2019-2022 (budget: 771'714 CHF)

Project leader
Prof. Dr. Nadja Capus, Law Faculty, University of Neuchâtel

Team
Elodie Bally, MLaw, PhD student
Dre Cornelia Griebel, Postdoctoral researcher
Dre Ivana Havelka, Postdoctoral researcher
Dr Damian Rosset, Postdoctoral researcher

Summary

Intercepting wire, oral, or electronic communication is an important element of criminal investigations. The goal is to transform communication intercepts into evidence of probable cause. This measure of secret surveillance is technically and legally possible, but expensive, and of course, only of use if the content of the conversations can be understood, that is, made available by interpreters.

Hence, criminal justice is completely dependent on good performances of interpreters. Interpreters lay the very foundation for subsequent interrogations and decisions by the Public Prosecutor to take further coercive measures or not.

According to the Swiss Criminal Procedure Code, jurisprudence and legal doctrine have so far neglected the significant and powerful role of these interpreters, whose activities are very different from those of courtroom or police interrogation interpreters. Scientific research has also mostly focused on courtroom interpreting, presumably because its context makes it more accessible.

However, interpreters involved in interception face specific challenges and must have different qualities than courtroom interpreters, including special linguistic skills such as dialect knowledge, voice recognition skills, criminal investigation flair, even insider knowledge. Interpreters listen, select extracts, interpret, and transcribe. They are important contributors to the inevitable “entextualization” process—that is, the ways in which parts of intercepted conversations are categorized as incriminating and thus converted into criminal evidence.

The „Intercepting with interpreters“ project is designed to investigate legal, sociolegal, sociolinguistic, and ethnomethodological questions under the direction of Prof. Dr. Nadja Capus, (socio)legal researcher at the Law Faculty of the University of Neuchâtel,