Business as usual?

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This paper sets out to examine the observable effects of prison video link upon court actors’ behaviour in multilingual Magistrates Court hearings in two areas of England, with a special focus on the interpreter. Prison video link (PVL) hearings are compared with face-to-face hearings in terms of proxemics, interpreter strategies, and the behavioural adjustments necessitated by the presence of videoconferencing technology in the courtroom. A significant finding is that although court interpreters in face-to-face hearings have five possible strategies or permutations of consecutive and simultaneous modes at their disposal, PVL interpreters can only use one of these strategies. The effect of this renders them highly visible and audible by comparison with their face-to-face counterparts, and their performance is much more transparent. The study concludes that even if video conferencing equipment were to be up-dated to state-of-the-art standard, there remain a number of problems to do with sightlines and camera configurations which may be difficult to resolve. Interestingly, there are features of PVL hearings which could actually enhance the experience of live defendants. Finally, I suggest that, at the time of writing, PVL disadvantages non-English-speaking defendants and that a future in which the virtual courtroom becomes the norm appears to require a reconsideration of the ancient jurisprudential right to “look your accuser in the eye”. N.B. (1) Note on generic pronoun use: interpreters are referred to as “she” and defendants as “he”. (2) List of abbreviations can be found at the end of the article.


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