27 Aug 2006
'Unqualified interpreters' cause chaos in courts
Almost a third of police forces are using "unqualified" interpreters to conduct crucial interviews with foreign suspects.
According to figures seen by The Sunday Telegraph, 13 of the 43 forces in England and Wales regularly use translators who are not on the National Register for Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).
Although Government guidance states police and courts should use interpreters only from the NRPSI, a clause allows them to look elsewhere if an accredited translator is not available. Critics believe that the loophole undermines the criminal justice system, forcing it to rely on illegal immigrants and low-skilled foreign workers to meet the demand.
According to a dossier compiled by Prof Guillermo Makin, a Spanish translator and member of the NRPSI, the clause is being exploited by agencies providing non-accredited staff or interpreters who do not have qualifications in the language they are translating. As a result suspects have walked free because the interpreter's work has been incomprehensible.
Among the cases highlighted in the report is that of a retired priest who translated for a Portuguese-speaking man from Guinea Bissau, in west Africa, accused at Norwich Crown Court of sexual offences. He struggled to communicate with the suspect because his knowledge of Portuguese was scant and he refused to translate sexual terms because it was against his beliefs.
In another case in Norfolk, a woman was used to help police to interview two Russian-speaking suspects, despite having studied the language only at school and failed an examination to act as a Russian interpreter. The judge threw out the evidence from the interviews.
Prof Makin said: "There have been cases where interpreters were making up answers because they did not understand what was being said to them. We don't know what else might have gone wrong in courts and police interviews because obviously no one else knows what is being said."
About 1,800 interpreters are on the register. To be accredited, they must prove they are in Britain legally, have no criminal record and have a diploma in public service interpreting.
Six police forces in the East Midlands and East Anglia use an agency called Cintra which does not always use NRPSI-registered translators. Christa McGrath, Cintra's chief executive, said: "At minimum, all our interpreters have to have passed our own assessment and a 42-hour course conducted to a diploma standard. We encourage our interpreters to join the register but we can't make them."