WP268 Neoliberal governance vs expert authority in Danish legal interpreting: Issues of social justice

Karrebæk & Kirilova


Access to interpreters is essential for a well-functioning legal system and for the rule of law. At the same time, contrary to other important institutional participants such as judges and prosecutors, interpreters are self-employed freelancers. In this paper, we discuss what happened to legal interpreting in Denmark after it was outsourced to a private company in 2018/2019. The private company promised to ensure quality through new technology, efficiency, and measurability. It also announced that it would reduce the interpreters? payment. The company was met with anger from the former legal interpreters, and hundreds of them refused to join. As a result, the courtrooms experienced tremendous difficulties with cases in need of interpreting assistance. Some of the former interpreters also began reporting from cases involving the often inexperienced new legal interpreters, focusing on errors and mishaps. Thus, what was originally presented as a way to increase quality in legal interpreting (engaging a new company to take it over) ended up as a challenge to (social) justice and the rule of law. Through the lenses of neoliberal governmentality (Mart?n Rojo & Del Percio 2019), language commodification (Heller 2010) and social justice (Fraser 2003), we analyze the case as the confrontation between two fundamentally different understandings of the organizational basis of the area: one based on ideas of neoliberal governance and one based on professional expertise. We draw on newspaper articles, homepages, interviews with court interpreters, field notes from various encounters and courtroom observations.