Trials in Melbourne have been moved onto Zoom due to the recent stage 4 lock down in Melbourne. I have the opportunity to assist two witnesses to give evidence in Zoom recently, one for the Country Court, and the other one for the Supreme Court. Here are some of my experience of the common pitfalls and solutions in court interpreting for witnesses in the virtual world.
- Slow CPU
Challenge: You may encounter slow connection if you have an old laptop with a slow CPU. That means it may take you longer to see everyone on the screen once the host lets you in, and you may get boosted out of Zoom if your connection is time out.
Solution: Spend a couple of hundred of dollars to upgrade your computer CPU
2. Earphone Connection
Challenge: You can use your computer’s system output for audio. Most of the time, it will be okay. If your house is situated next to a large road with lots of vehicle noises like me, or you have kids playing in the next room, or for some reasons your system microphone is not picking up your speech consistently, you have a problem.
Solution: Plug in an earphone with a microphone, or a blue tooth earphone, which will allow you to move more freely, especially when you need to take notes or refer to documents on a different screen. When doing so, please make sure your Zoom audio setting has chosen the respective microphone and earphone.
- Mental Detachment
Challenge: When you are interpreting, you are sitting in your study room and staring at your witness or a barrister on the screen, rather than being physically present. You may develop a more detached mental state in the serenity of your study or your bedroom. You do not need to dress up as much, at least you with the lower half of your body, get through the traffic to get into a court room in time, or do any of the meet and greet stuffs with a client or the lawyers. The stress level is low compare with an onsite booking. This is good. Isn’t impartiality a virtual we cherish highly in our role as an interpreter? I had been of this view until earlier this week when I was chastised by a judge for sounding hesitant while the witness came across to him as confident in her manner. I came to the realization that I had probably focused too much on taking notes of the interchange between the barrister and the witness, that I had forgotten to imitate her tone of speech. If you are present with them physically when they are sitting side by side in the witness stand facing the court, it is probably easier to sympathize with your witness, and therefore you are more able to internalize the demeanor of a witness in your rendering.
Solution: Even when you are taking notes, try to look at your screen as much as you can, so you can get the maximum facial and tonal information from your witness. This will help you to be emotionally and mentally connected to all the participants of the proceeding and maintain a high level of concentration.
2. Referring to Documents
Challenge: The court book and index are shared before a hearing and updated as the hearing progresses if necessary, usually in PDF format. If you have two computer screens, you can use one for Zoom, and the other for the documents. Sometimes the associates will use the Zoom function to share the document during questioning, but because the questioning barrister are jumping from page to page to set the context for their questions, he or she will prefer to have the control of the scrolling of the document, which is achievable through Zoom’s screen sharing functionality assigned by the barrister by the host which is usually the associates,but probably due to the screen being shared in Zoom is smaller compared with what you can see in full screen PDF window, parties are often reluctant to use it, and prefer to open their PDF. But because PDF pagination is often different from the pagination that appear on the number that appear on the court book pages. In the case I was involved in recently, the barristers had probably been working on the hard copies in preparation for the trial, they were quoting the numbers printed on the pages and the tab numbers of the court book, rather than the PDF pagination, making the addition or subtraction of a certain number necessary to arrive the number of the PDF pagination, it has increase the mental strain for me as the interpreter, who was least familiar with the court book among the parties, after being recruited in half way down the trial.
Solution: Barristers should use the PDF pagination in their preparation of the trial to increase the efficiency and reduce the stress level for everyone. Interpreters should ask for more time if necessary.
All in all, using Zoom for trials has been a good learning for me. As the founder of Khan’s Academy has told his son, when you struggle, your brain grows. Looking at the blue sky outside, and thinking about early pickup of my daughter, I think it is worthwhile.
My partner who works as a solicitor is enjoying the experience of taking our daughter to school before attending to his Zoom mention. But he is at the same time concerned that a lower stress level for accused participating in the criminal law process may mean that they have not learnt their lessons fully.