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Tuesday, 14 September 2021

PQ: 14 September 2021


Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 3:28 pm on 14th September 2021.

Baroness Coussins Crossbench 7:16 pm, 14th September 2021

My Lords, I want to raise some concerns about the provision of interpreters in our courts and to suggest a way in which this Bill could improve the service. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for meeting me after I raised these concerns in the debate earlier this year on the Queen’s Speech, and for his subsequent helpful and encouraging correspondence. I am sorry he is not in the Chamber today, because he has assured me that the MoJ is already addressing some of the shortcomings. I want to flag up a possible amendment to the Bill which I believe would help.

Part 12 already acknowledges the potential role of British Sign Language interpreters for jurors. Sign language is not my area of expertise, but it is not too much of a stretch to see that this part of the Bill would be the logical place for a simple amendment to lay down a specific requirement for minimum standards in the quality and qualifications of the spoken-word interpreter. Their role is already established in court proceedings, but all too often there is serious detriment to defendants, victims or witnesses—not to mention the taxpayer—when an unqualified, underqualified or inexperienced interpreter causes confusion rather than clarity, often leading to costly re-hearings or even the wrong verdict being overturned on appeal. I gave some examples of such cases in the debate I referred to earlier and will not repeat them here.

The question is: how can the current MoJ system be improved so that only competent and appropriately qualified interpreters are engaged? The criteria for inclusion in the MoJ’s list of approved interpreters currently fall short of either the requirements for the National Register of Public Service Interpreters or the excellent, more recently formed, police-approved interpreters scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has kindly briefed me on the stakeholder forum which HMCTS and the MoJ have been holding. I would be grateful for an update on these discussions. In particular, is there any good reason why the MoJ should not adopt the same practice as the CPS and use only interpreters from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, which would guarantee an appropriate level of qualification and significant experience of the court and justice system?

There is consensus among the specialist professional bodies that the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting at level 6 should be the minimum standard for any court interpreting work, alongside requirements for experience which acknowledge the variation in complexity of cases. The level 6 standard is supported by the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and the Association of Police and Court Interpreters. There is also support for the National Register of PSIs to be the officially recognised register for court interpreters. Are the Government willing to look at these aspects of a proposed minimum standard being incorporated into the Bill, which I believe would improve trust and confidence in the system?

I have two more brief but connected points. First, I am aware of concerns that the supply chain for court interpreters might not be robust enough to meet the minimum standard requirement that I have outlined. It is true that well over 1,000 public service interpreters have abandoned court interpreting over the past few years because of poor and declining terms and conditions, not least the derisory pay rates. However, a determined campaign could bring these highly skilled professionals back into public service, not just with better pay but also much greater recognition of their status and skills, and could attract more new linguists into the field. Does the Minister agree?

Finally, it has been reported that an American venture capital firm recently took a majority stake in thebigword, the company contracted to provide language services for our courts. What, if any, impact assessment or due diligence was undertaken by the department, HMCTS or thebigword on any changes in service delivery that this change in ownership is likely to have?

I look forward to the Minister’s reply and hope that, if all my questions cannot be answered this evening, either she or her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, will be able to write to me.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Judge criticises translation service after interpreter fails to attend


7 September 2021

Judge criticises translation service after interpreter fails to attend

A frustrated judge has once again criticised a court translation service after another case at Ipswich Crown Court had to be adjourned because an interpreter failed to attend court.

In July Judge David Pugh was forced to adjourn a hearing after a Romanian interpreter failed to attend and he complained that he had been forced to adjourn a number of other cases because translators hadn’t turned up to hearings at the court.

On Tuesday morning (September 7) an interpreter failed to attend the court for a plea hearing for a Russian speaking defendant and the case was adjourned until the afternoon to see if one could attend.

“This happens time and time again,” said Judge Pugh, who said he was concerned at the amount of money wasted by interpreters not being provided by the company contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide translators. […]

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Interpreters play a vital role in Scotland but they are being exploited


Sunday, 5th September 2021 by Neil Findlay

Interpreters play a vital role in Scotland but they are being exploited

[…] Here in Scotland, interpreters play a vital role in helping deliver crucial public services like health, policing and social services. They are mainly employed by agencies who are contracted by the likes of the NHS, police and courts.

On the face of it, they are paid what seems like a fair hourly rate, but this is an illusion as they are only paid from the time they walk through the door of the police station, hospital or courtroom.

They receive no paid travelling time or expenses, so a journey across Lothian to provide services might mean a round trip of four hours, a train fare of £15 and a payment to the interpreter of just £12.

During the period they wait on the next call, they are prevented from doing work for any other employer. They may only receive one interpreting job a day. These are the terms of employment being offered by agencies who receive taxpayers’ money.

Interpreters are highly skilled individuals who work with some of most the vulnerable and needy people in our communities. They often assist people who have fled war, conflict and persecution.

Let’s treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. They need a fair deal, not to be exploited.

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Lost in translation: ‘You can be shocked by the bad news you have to interpret’


14 August 2021

Lost in translation: ‘You can be shocked by the bad news you have to interpret’

Ali* had never worked as an interpreter when he applied for a job with one of the State’s leading interpreting and translation companies in 2019. He was surprised when the company immediately requested that he come in for an interview.

“The man talked to me for maybe two minutes and then said I’m going to print out a contract. To be honest there was no interview, they just knew I was in college. Half an hour later they called me asking that I go to a hospital for my first job.”

With no experience as an interpreter, Ali felt very nervous as he approached Dublin’s Coombe. “It felt very awkward being there. The wife didn’t speak English and her husband didn’t want me to be there. He had come to translate for his wife but the hospital said they needed an interpreter. Some men don’t like that.”

Despite being a competent English-Arabic speaker Ali says he never received formal training. He continued working in hospitals and also attended interviews with asylum seekers applying for international protection. A refugee himself, he had experienced at first hand the anxiety and fear of being interviewed by the International Protection Office.

“When I came to Ireland I saw the interpreter as someone with power or influence. It was a very strange feeling being in that position. Some people I interpret for, they don’t read or write and their Arabic is totally different to mine. You need to learn how to explain in their way; it’s not translation word for word.

Ali is one of the many thousands of foreign nationals working for translation and interpreting companies in Irish hospitals, Garda stations, courts and with asylum seekers. However, poor regulation of the sector and inadequate training for interpreters by some providers is seriously impacting people’s lives, according to Mary Phelan, chairwoman of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association (ITIA).

Interpreting is highly skilled and requires proficiency in both languages combined with an understanding of “confidentiality, impartiality and accuracy”. But most people in Ireland believe anyone who speaks English and another language can interpret, Phelan says.

Without proper skills, the experiences of asylum seekers applying for international protection may be misconstrued by immigration officials while in Garda stations, the account of a suspect, witness or victim of a crime may be distorted, she says. In court, a defendant may not understand the evidence against them and in a hospital, the patient risks misunderstanding the severity of their illness or what medication they need to take.

Untrained interpreters also risk inadvertently taking sides or offering advice during a conversation, adds Phelan. She also has concerns that some interpreting firms used by the State do not test competency of staff who say they are qualified.

While NUI Galway runs a master’s degree in conference interpreting, this does not prepare people for interpreting in community settings, says Phelan, who ran a graduate certificate in community interpreting at Dublin City University between 2004 and 2009. But the DCU graduates often found they were not prioritised for work and were placed on a par with those without formal training, she says.

“There’s no training course in Ireland, that’s the key problem. Most people without training haven’t learned note-taking techniques, which is very important. They just rely on their memory but notes are needed for names, places and dates.” There is no minimum qualification or competency requirement in Ireland for translation services.

In a 2019 submission to the government, the ITIA described Ireland’s interpreter provisions as “very problematic”. While the State spends significant amounts on interpreting services, it has “no guarantees whatever as to the quality of the work”, it wrote.

In March of this year, the ITIA wrote to the European Commissioner for Justice, warning interpreting standards in Ireland were “wholly unsatisfactory”. Training and testing of interpreters and translators is essential to reduce the “risk of a miscarriage of justice”, said the ITIA.

In February, the Department of Children and Equality said in its White Paper to End Direct Provision that it would introduce an interpreters’ code of conduct, training for interpreters working with international protection applications, and independent inspections. This month a spokesman for the department said the implementation of the White Paper was still “in the early stages with the new model to be fully in place by the end of 2024”.

Phelan has also called for international protection interviews to be recorded so that the interpretation of an asylum seeker’s story can be double checked. “Interpreting is crucially important for international protection officers trying to understand a person’s story. With no recording of interviews, no system of checks and balances or quality control of interpreting, it’s a huge problem. It’s totally unfair on the asylum seeker.”

Hassina Kiboua, a resettlement officer with the Irish Refugee Council, provides training for interpreters working with asylum seekers. Accurate interpretation during an asylum interview is crucial, she says. “The officer will rely on consistency in accounts and inconsistency can really impact the outcome. The role of the interpreter is not only to pass on the same information but to keep it in chronological order. You need to give training on boundaries and confidentiality.”

The interpreter must also be able to explain legalistic language to an applicant who may not have attended school or doesn’t understand the terminology being used.

Through her own PhD research, Kiboua has found that Australia has “perfect regulation and training”, while Sweden and the US also have good training systems. In the UK, interpreters working in hospitals or courts must undergo training and asylum interviews are recorded, she adds.

A Department of Justice spokesman said he could not discuss its procurement of interpreters as it related “to matters which are currently before the court” and it would be inappropriate to comment on matters which are “sub judice”. Details of the case were not provided.

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said the force was “satisfied that all of our current operational needs are being met”. All contracts for these services are organised by the Office of Government Procurement, he added.

In hospitals, it’s often accepted that friends and family interpret for a patient, a senior HSE nurse (who asked not to be named) told The Irish Times. She has witnessed children explaining a cancer diagnosis for their parents and has been surprised at the lack of interpreting standards in some Irish hospitals.

The nurse, who has worked outside the Republic, says in her previous job “there was an expectation you never assess somebody in a certain level of distress until you get an appropriate translator”.

In cases of domestic abuse, friends or community representatives may be reluctant to interpret because they know the abuser, she says. Sometimes a trafficker might be interpreting to the patient and then that person just disappears, she adds.

“Nuances are really important in taking any medical history. If it’s coming through a filter, how do you know you’re making the right diagnosis? It has such far reaching implications.”

Read more here: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/lost-in-translation-you-can-be-shocked-by-the-bad-news-you-have-to-interpret-1.4644674