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: CHF 795'714)

Project duration: 01.12.2019 - 31.08.2023

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


Dre Cornelia Griebel, Postdoctoral researcher
Dre Ivana Havelka, Postdoctoral researcher
Dre Franziska Hohl Zürcher, Postdoctoral researcher (since 2021)
Dr Damian Rosset, Postdoctoral researcher (2019-2021)
Elodie Bally, MLaw, PhD student (2019-2022)


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,


  • Publications

Holh Zürcher, F., & Capus, N. (2024). Redefining interpreters' and translators' roles: unveiling forensic expertise in lawful interception of communication. Revista Estudos Institucionais, v. 10, n. 2, pp. 689-712. 


Havelka, I. (2024). Interpreting intercepted communication: From talk to evidence. Translation & Interpreting, 16(1), 17–37. lien


Griebel, C., & Havelka, I. (2024). Interpreter, Translator or Investigator? Framing the Competences of a Hybrid Translational Field – Intercept Interpreting. Perspectives, 1–20. lien


Brodersen, K. H., Capus, N., & Rosset, D. (2023). The politics of informality in criminal procedures. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 74. lien


Griebel, C., & Hohl Zürcher, F. (2023). The work of intercept interpreters in lawful communication surveillance: a daily trade-off between formal requirements and informal needs. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 74. lien


Capus, N., & Grisot, C. (2022). Ghostwriters of crime narratives: Constructing the story by referring to intercept interpreters contributions in criminal case files. Crime, Media, Culture 19(3), 380-399. lien 


Capus, N., & Havelka, I. (2022). Interpreting Intercepted Communication: A Sui Generis Translational Activity. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law/Revue internationale de sémiotique juridique 35(5), 1817-1836. lien


Capus, N., & Griebel, C. (2021). "The (In-)Visibility of Interpreters in Legal Wiretapping — A Case Study: How the Swiss Federal Court Clears or Thickens the Fog", International Journal of Language & Law (JLL) 10, 73-98. lien


Capus, N., & Havelka, I. (2021). Geheime Kommunikationsüberwachung bei der Polizei: eine interdisziplinäre Literaturrecherche zum translatorischen Handlungsrahmen. trans-kom 14(2), 175-196. lien


Capus, N. (2021). Überwachen mit Sprachmittlern: eine Praxis auf der Suche nach Standards, SKP Info 2021/2, 13-16. lien


Capus, N. (2021). Intercepter avec des médiateurs linguistiques: une pratique en quête de normes, PSC Info 2021/2, 13-16. lien


Capus, N., & Bally, E. (2020), Intercepter avec des interprètes. Les exigences juridiques dans le cadre d’enquêtes pénales, Revue Pénale Suisse 4/2020, 345-365. lien