26 April 2012 by Jago Russell
Difficult to comprehend
I have followed with interest and mounting concern the Gazette’s coverage of fears about the declining standards of interpretation in UK criminal courts, most recently ‘Interpreter mistake causes trial to collapse'.
Fair Trials International helps hundreds of people arrested abroad every year and the standard of interpreting in court proceedings continues to be a very common concern. Over 10% complain that they were either provided interpreters who had poor command of their language or denied access to an interpreter altogether.
Many people are not surprised to hear that the quality of interpretation is inadequate in countries such as India and Thailand, but many of the cases we see raising major concerns come from within Europe. One of our clients in Portugal recently told us that the interpreter in his trial had limited command of the language. In fact she was a hairdresser and friend of the judge’s wife, called in at late notice.
We have campaigned hard for an EU directive on the right to interpretation and translation on criminal proceedings, which comes into effect next year. Against this backdrop, reports that standards of interpretation are declining in UK courts are of enormous concern.
The right to be understood in criminal proceedings is an indispensable aspect of the right to a fair trial. When Britons are arrested abroad we correctly expect their basic rights to be respected. We must not, at the same time, neglect the rights of foreign nationals in our own legal system.
Jago Russell, chief executive, Fair Trials International