Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 13th
Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)
To ask the Secretary of State for for Justice, what
safeguards his Department has in place to ensure that contracted interpreters
for courts and tribunals are appropriately qualified and competent in the use
of (a) the foreign language they are translating into English, (b) the English
language, (c) English law and (d) English and Welsh judiciary's legal terms;
and what assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of those
Lucy Frazer The
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice
The Ministryis committed to ensuring the
justice system is supported by a suite of high quality language service
contracts, that meet the needs of all those that require them.
It has a clearly defined list of qualifications,
skills, experience and vetting requirements interpreters must meet, set out in
each of the contracts it has with its suppliers of language services, which
have been designed to meet the needs of the justice system. All interpreters
are also required to complete a justice system specific training course before
they are permitted to join the ministry’s interpreter register.
The ministry’s contractors are required to hold
evidence of these credentials, which are subject to an additional safeguard in
the form of an annual audit conducted by The Language Shop (part of the London
Borough of Newham), the department’s supplier of independent language service
The Language Shop undertakes additional processes
to assure the quality of interpreting provided to the ministry, including the
management of its register of interpreters, conducting a programme of
assessments for interpreters, and conducting an annual audit of supplier
processes for onboarding new linguists.
The complaint rate is monitored closely as part of
a robust contract governance processes. The rate remains low which suggests
there is no systemic issue with the quality of interpreting provided.
Replacing interpreters with technology 'will lead to miscarriages of
The lord chief justice has been invited to meet the
courtroom interpreters he predicts will be out of
a job 'within a few years' as a result of advances in technology.
Delivering the Sir Henry Brooke annual lecture on
'the age of reform' last week, Lord Burnett of Maldon said he had 'little
doubt' that high-quality simultaneous translation will be available and 'see
the end of interpreters'.
However, the Institute of Translation and
Interpreting says Burnett's prediction is based on unproven assumptions. In a
letter to Burnett, the institute's chair, Sarah Griffin Mason and chief
executive, Jonathan Downie, say the technologies that underlie automatic
simultaneous interpreting, such as speech recognition, are a long way from
They say: 'Even the most highly developed machine
translation systems can and do commit errors at a rate that would be
unacceptable for the judicial process... To allow such systems loose on the
justice system in their current state and without significant time in testing,
development and trialling would lead to miscarriages of justice, increased
taxpayer expense and the inability of those with limited English proficiency to
participate in the justice system. This runs counter to current human rights
law and would lead to irreparable damage to the British justice system.'
The institute's views are echoed by Alan
Thompson, chair of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters. Thompson
told the Gazette:
'The concept of a universal translator - a "black box" which can
translate speech from one language into another - is of course nothing new; my
recollection is that such a device was in use as early as the 1960s by the crew
of the Starship Enterprise to enable them to communicate readily with any alien
species they might encounter. Of course, back then it was pure science fiction,
but the march of technology has brought the fiction much closer to reality.
'However, recent experience with machine
translation has shown that there is a vast gulf between a draft quality
translation of a text, sufficient to enable the reader to grasp its general
meaning, and an accurate, faithful and idiomatic rendition provided by a
professional linguist. In proceedings so much can hang on the precise
translation of the meaning of a single word, with all its nuances, and for now
only a professional interpreter can provide that.'
Mason and Downie say the systems for hiring,
briefing and working with courtroom interpreters are overdue for improvement.
'Given your concern for interpreting to be provided in an accurate and
efficient manner, we would therefore like to invite you to come and meet with
some of our legal interpreter members to hear their views directly. This would
allow you to lead change and create precisely the kind of reactive, efficient
interpreting system you desire,' their letter concludes.