06 Jun 2010
Hundreds of court, Garda interpreters have no qualification
Hundreds of interpreters working in the courts and for the Garda have no formal qualification to interpret or translate, despite growing concern over poor standards and the potential for miscarriages of justice.
Most of the major interpreting firms used by the State do not test the competency of individuals who claim to be either qualified or experienced interpreters, it has emerged.
In addition, new research based on hundreds of cases at District Court level points to serious lapses in interpreting standards, with defendants left in the dark over key details such as their rights or the facts of a case.
Unlike most other European countries, there are no written regulations or laws governing interpreting in Ireland.
The Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association says it has raised concerns over poor standards of interpreting with both gardaí and the Court Services on a consistent basis over the past decade.
“We find it hard to understand how the State can spend millions of euro per year on interpreting without any auditing of contracts or quality control,” said Mary Phelan, the association’s spokeswoman.
“Members of our association, for example, tell us that they have come across court interpreters who do not know the meaning of basic words such as ‘guilty’ or ‘judge’.”
Kate Waterhouse, a PhD candidate at the school of social work and social policy in Trinity College Dublin, is finalising research on access to justice among people with limited or no English.
As part of her research she spent eight months at district courts in Dublin and outside the capital examining how interpreters worked in hundreds of individual court cases.
She found that interpreting services themselves were highly variable and, in the majority of cases, deficient in some way.
“I was shocked at the way interpreting was taking place in many cases,” says Ms Waterhouse. “It was clear in some cases that nothing was being interpreted.”
The Courts Service, which has spent just under €10 million on interpreting services over the past three years, says there are no problems in the vast majority of cases.
“Where an issue of a lack of clarity or understanding arises, the dynamic of the court setting makes this apparent. On these rare occasions the interpreter is replaced,” a spokesman said.
The Courts Service says it appointed Lionbridge Ireland Ltd as the single provider of services following an international tender. This contract involved a series of levels of proficiency for interpreters ranging from “competency” in English to having a specific qualification in interpreting.
However, there have been numerous recent cases where the quality of interpreting has been raised in court. These include:
· In December 2009 a judge in Drogheda told a Polish defendant who pleaded guilty to dangerous driving that she could appeal the case after it emerged that her interpreter had not explained what she was pleading guilty to.
· In a case in Galway in May 2008, a judge told an interpreter from Lionbridge that she would not certify her payment as she felt she was not translating everything that was being said for the accused man.
· In October 2007, two Polish interpreters were asked to leave the District Court in Cork when a judge said they were not competent to translate as they could not explain the word “ambiguity” accurately.
In a statement, Lionbridge said it was proud of the high levels of quality it provided. It said it had a “stringent recruitment and qualification process” and regularly received positive feedback from its clients.
Several freelance interpreters used by the firm say they have never been tested for proficiency in interpreting. However, the company’s says it has an extensive quality assurance programme.
The Garda Representative Association has also raised concerns over standards and the lack of vetting of interpreters.