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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Scotland: Solicitor concerned over poor interpretation

3 November 2009

Solicitor concerned over poor interpretation
Defence lawyer starts hiring his own translators
An Aberdeen defence solicitor is hiring his own interpreters rather than relying on the ones provided through the courts because of low interpretation standards.
Mike Monro said interpreters he had hired to act on behalf of clients had questioned the translations of those hired by the courts.
He expressed concerns as the Scottish Interpreters and Translators Association (Sita) warned there was a “serious risk” of miscarriage of justice and a “catastrophe waiting to happen”.
A source at Sita said expert interpreters were being “starved” out by low-cost unqualified interpreters who lack adequate English skills.
The source condemned a new £5.5million contract which came into force earlier this year, allowing just one agency, Global Language Services Ltd (GLS), to provide the overwhelming majority of interpretation work for the Scottish Courts Service and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
He said that GLS had now cut pay rates by 30-40% and cut travel expenses for assignments under 70 miles.
Mr Monro said: “I know that some people are concerned about the ability of some of the interpreters. There have also been some misgivings perhaps because of the low rates of pay on offer to the poor interpreters.
“It is very important that interpreters are up to the job – I now keep my own books of interpreters to call on for court proceedings because I know they are good. Interpreters should be paid at a rate that reflects the skilled job they do.”
Mr Monro, a member of Aberdeen Bar Association, said: “It is too early to say if the situation has worsened because of Global Language Services but I am aware of and have been involved in court cases even before this new tender where the sheriff has been concerned with the standards of interpreting.”
GLS managing director George Runciman said travel expenses for trips under 70 miles were cut because the Government wanted to use local interpreters.
He said: “Some interpreters have lost money because of the cuts in travel expenses but this is a competitive business and in this current economic climate, public funds for interpreting and translation services are tight. We work with set rates for court so everyone gets paid the same no matter what the experience.”

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Scotland: Battle of words threatens chaos in the courts

01 November 2009

Battle of words threatens chaos in the courts
Scotland 's justice system is facing a revolt from professional interpreters which could throw the nation's courts into chaos, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
In an increasingly bitter battle over pay and conditions, the translators claim they are faced with swingeing cuts to their contracts amid grave concerns over the increasing use of unqualified and inexperienced substitutes that could lead to serious miscarriages of justice. They have now rallied together to form a new professional body – the Scottish Association of Interpreters & Translators (SITA) – with some members threatening to boycott court hearings and hold demonstrations to highlight their cause. They claim that inadequate translation services could lead to foreign nationals either being wrongly convicted or escaping justice.
The Miscarriages of Justice Organisation Scotland (MOJO) said the cutting of costs signalled a "very dangerous move", and threatens to undermine defendants' rights to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights.
SITA has condemned a new contract, which came into force earlier this year, which allows for one agency, Global Language Services Ltd, to provide the overwhelming majority of work for the Scottish Courts Service (SCS), the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service. It has now started a database of problems in court cases linked to inexperienced translators which will be submitted to Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary.
The director of Global Language Services admitted that mistakes could be made in court, but said his industry is not as "formalised" as other professions.  The arrangement means that even those self-employed interpreters with years of experience are guaranteed only £36 for a day's work, inclusive of travel costs. Many say they are being "starved" out of their profession as a result – one veteran is now eking out a living as a taxi driver – and replaced by individuals with insufficient training and a potentially dangerous ignorance of the legal system. This is despite the fact that the number of eastern European and other non-UK nationals appearing in court has risen in recent years.
Melanie Beaumont, a Spanish interpreter with 12 years' experience, said: "It's a scandalous situation. The new government contract has basically dealt a death blow to our profession, and there are going to be several miscarriages of justice, not just one." Beaumont, the Edinburgh convenor for SITA, added: "A major implication of all this is that foreign nationals, people who are already psychologically vulnerable, don't have access to a fair trial. They're victimising a silent clientele. "Boycotting court cases is something that we have talked about and there have been some more radical measures proposed. SITA are going to develop a strategy to take action." A senior source at SITA said demonstrations and boycotts were under consideration, and would be discussed by the association's full membership.
The £5.5m contract was intended to create a streamlined interpreting service for Scotland's justice system that would improve both "quality" and "efficiency," according to the Crown Office. The three-year contract was won by Global Language Services, a Glasgow-based firm, and came into force this summer.  Yet many of the company's interpreters do not possess the industry benchmark qualification, known as a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI).
Beamont said: "Instead of having professionals, there's a system of self-certifying which allows them to drag in people from Indian, Chinese and Spanish restaurants. "Many of the interpreters being used aren't even bilingual – they just have a smattering of another language."
Last year, the jury trial of a migrant for assault collapsed after a sheriff discovered the accused's interpreter did not possess the DPSI or previous experience of working on a trial. Sheriff James Tierney halted the trial of Krzysztof Kucharski at Aberdeen Sheriff Court on the second day after the freelance interpreter admitted her inexperience in open court.
In 2006, an assault trial at Wick Sheriff Court involving a Polish accused and a number of Polish prosecution witnesses collapsed because of mistakes made by an inexperienced linguist.
George Runciman, director of Global Language Services, told Scotland on Sunday that a "fair number" of the 1,700 interpreters on his books do not possess the DPSI, but stressed that the industry was not a "nice, simple, logically structured profession". "The DPSI is not available in every language," he explained. "It can be a very expensive qualification for interpreters, so we look for equivalencies … but we're talking about a profession which isn't as formalised as the legal or medical professions." Asked about the danger of miscarriages of justice occurring due to inexperienced interpreters, Runciman said: "I suppose there could be mistakes, but generally this is not the case. It's a bit like driving a car. You could be a driver for 20 years with no problems and occasionally go over a white line or go faster than you should. It doesn't mean it's fundamentally erroneous.
"People are well aware of the need for training in the etiquette and formality of court. All these things are ongoing.
A Scottish Court Service spokesperson said: "This new contract delivers better value for public money, greater efficiency, and the SCS requires translators to have the DPSI. "Where this is not possible, written recommendations are required from the employer to state that the translator has equivalent qualifications and experience.  "This must be provided in advance of a case and is made available to the presiding sheriff who can accept or decline the translator offered."

Scotland: Scottish court service lost in translation

November 1st, 2009 

Scottish court service lost in translation
Politicians are urging the Scottish Government to “sort out” problems within the court translation service as it is revealed that there is a real risk of serious miscarriages of justice.
It has been claimed that trials are being handled by inexperienced interpreters following the implementation of a new Government tender.
Angry translators have now formed an action group after becoming increasingly concerned at the impact the new contract is having on their jobs – and on the Scottish criminal justice system.
The newly formed Scottish Interpreters and Translators Association (SITA) fears qualified interpreters are being “held to ransom” because translation companies have undercut market rates to win the contracts to supply interpreters to Scottish courts and other government services.
And they plan to take their protest to Alex Salmond in a bid to highlight how court cases could be jeopardised by inexperienced interpreters translating in trials and how the Government have missed a chance to ‘professionalise’ the service.
“Nothing has been done”
The group have attracted support from Scottish Labour, who say they have been worried about the state of the service for some time now.
Richard Baker MSP said: “The integrity of the Scottish justice system requires Kenny MacAskill to sort this out.
“Labour has been raising questions about the Court Translation Service for over a year now and it appears that nothing has been done.”
And the court service is being affected by these cuts – earlier this month, a case at Edinburgh Sheriff Court had to be halted because a Russian interpreter did not show up to translate for a defendant.
The row revolves around the decision by the Scottish Government in June to award one company, Glasgow-based Global Language Services (GLS), with a contract to supply interpreters to public sector bodies including the Scottish Courts, the Procurator Fiscal Service and the NHS. 
Court interpreters, who work for language agencies on a freelance basis, claim GLS have now cut pay rates by 30-40% and refused to pay travel expenses for assignments under 70 miles to meet the tender requirements – and that unqualified interpreters are being hired over experienced professionals in a bid to keep their prices low.
There is now a fear that experienced interpreters will quit because they will no longer be
A SITA spokesman said: “Within days of being awarded this contract, the rates interpreters were being paid were slashed.
“It is very easy to say something in a slightly different way and for it to mean something completely different. It means you could be communicating what the witness, victim or accused intends to say in a completely false way to the judges and lawyers. If people are not trained properly this is going to affect the quality of the delivery of justice.”
The spokesman said rates have been coming down over the last few years anyway – but since the new contract came into effect they have effectively lost up to 40% of income for each interpreting contract because all expenses have been stopped.
“Highly damaging”
Court interpreter Melanie Beaumont said the new conditions meant interpreters were effectively being forced to work for less than the minimum wage.
She said: “It takes many years of practice and training to get to a level that is sufficiently competent to provide interpreting for a court environment or for other public sector organisations.
“Putting such a low value on this tender is not only insulting to the interpreters that currently provide these services, but it will be highly damaging in the long run.
“You’ll get to the point where the interpreting company will be picking language students off the street, without any formal training or qualifications, and expecting them to carry out intricate work in a high pressured court environment.
“This could lead to gross miscarriages of justice caused by interpreters not being good enough to do their job properly – and which, ultimately, will end up in costing the taxpayer even more money.”
Michael Monro defence solicitor for Mackie and Dewar, and a member of the Aberdeen Bar Association, said interpreters he had hired to act on behalf of his clients had questioned translations of those hired by the courts during proceedings.
“Lack of interpreters”
He said: “I know that some people are concerned about the ability of some of the interpreters, there have also been some misgivings perhaps because of the low rates of pay on offer to the poor interpreters. A lot of interpreters are being forced out of the profession because of this.”
Mr Monro said he now got his own hired interpreters to check recordings of police interviews to ensure questions and answers had been correctly interpreted between his clients and the police.
He added: “I have seen cases postponed or delayed because of a lack of interpreters, and in an ongoing case my client’s interpreter hired by me questioned the interpretation of the court interpreter.
“There may be times when you will see a long conversation with the accused, but the interpreter simply turns round to the court and say yes or no.”
And the company behind the service – Global Languages Ltd – admit that they have encountered problems, but blame the cheap government contract for the shortcomings.
George Runciman, Managing Director of Global Languages Ltd, said the cuts in travel expenses of trips under 70 miles came about because the Scottish Government wanted to use local interpreters for court proceedings.
“Penny pinching”
He said: “Some interpreters have lost money because of the cuts in travel expenses but this is a competitive business and in this current economic climate, public funds for interpreting and translation services are tight.
“We are providing the services now, but if it wasn’t us another agency would be in the same situation.
“We have always had a good relationship with our interpreters, now we are being accused of penny pinching when the money isn’t there.
“I am only aware of two or three people who have given up court work since this new system came in.
“We work with set rates for court so everyone gets paid the same no matter what the experience.”
Diploma in Public Services Interpretation
A Scottish Court Service Spokesperson said: “The Scottish Court Service has to provide translators to support the delivery of justice within courts. This new contract delivers better value for public money, greater efficiency, and the Scottish Court Service requires translators to have the Diploma in Public Services Interpretation.
“Where this is not possible, written recommendations are required from the employer to state that the translator has equivalent qualifications and experience, for example a qualification accredited by the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
“This must be provided in advance of a case and is made available to the presiding sheriff who can accept or decline the translator offered.”

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Ireland: Interpreters in court pay row

March 29, 2009
Interpreters in court pay row
Courts Service outlines plans for an 8% fees slash, prompting fears there will be a dearth of cover in the future
Irish court interpreters have been told their hourly rate is to be cut by 28%.
Lionbridge, the company contracted by the Courts Service to translate for defendants and witnesses who don’t speak English, informed interpreters last week that the fee was being cut from €25 to €18 in April.
The company is among the service providers who received a letter from the Courts Service seeking an 8% reduction in fees in line with a government decision to reduce the amount paid for all professional services.
About 1,200 interpreters are employed to cover 175 languages. Interpreters have described Lionbridge’s 28% cut as an “opportunistic” way to increase its take from each employee. “It is unfair that we take this cut while their budget will only go down 8%,” said one.
Lionbridge did not return calls asking for comment.
The interpreters’ fate is in stark contrast with that of judges, who are the only public servants not subject to the 7.5% public-service pension levy. The Courts Service confirmed it had sought an 8% reduction in fees from all its service providers. The amount of money paid to Lionbridge is demand driven and comes to about €2m annually — up from €100,000 in 2000.
According to Mary Phelan, a lecturer in Dublin City University, Lionbridge is paid €46 per hour by the Courts Service for providing interpreters. This gives it €21 per hour while the interpreter takes home €25.
Under the new rates, Lionbridge’s take will increase to €24 per hour despite the 8% cut from the Courts Service. Phelan said this rate will be one of the lowest paid to court interpreters in Europe.
“The Courts Service has to be concerned about the quality of the translations,” said Phelan. “We will not get able interpreters to work for €18 an hour where they may only get one hour’s work in a day.”
British court interpreters are paid for half or full days while their Irish counterparts may travel to courts in Kerry and Donegal for just one hour’s pay.
The quality of some Lionbridge interpreters has been criticised by judges. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Parliament Debate - 11th March 2009


11 Mar 2009: Column 131WH
Police Interpreters
4.32 pm

John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I am delighted to have secured a debate this afternoon on the use of interpreters by police forces in England after several weeks of trying. I am particularly pleased because earlier this week I had the opportunity to submit a petition to the House on behalf of 282 interpreters who are concerned about the prospect of police forces in the north-west outsourcing interpreting services to an agency and about the impact that would have on the quality of interpretation services.
The issue was brought to my attention by a constituent, Marc Starr, who is a registered public service interpreter of Spanish and Portuguese. He contacted me because he and his colleagues were concerned that Greater Manchester police and other forces in the north-west were considering outsourcing interpreting services to an agency. There was clear evidence that when that happened in other parts of the country, there was a massive increase in the use of non-registered interpreters, in contravention of clear guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers. The recommended best practice is that qualified interpreters with a diploma in public service interpreting or equivalent should be used. The ACPO guidance is drawn largely from the "National Agreement on Arrangements for the Use of Interpreters, Translators and Language Service Professionals in Investigations and Proceedings Within the Criminal Justice System" as revised in 2007.
The agreement was issued by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform. It was produced in consultation with the interpreters working group, which includes representatives from ACPO, the Crown Prosecution Service, Her Majesty's Courts Service, the probation service, the Home Office, the Magistrates' Association, the Bar Council and the Law Society, and representatives of interpreter bodies, and replaces the national agreement issued by the Trials Issue Group in 2002 and a Home Office circular of 2006.
Paragraph 3.3.1 of the agreement states:
"It is essential that interpreters used in criminal proceedings should be competent to meet the ECHR obligations. To that end, the standard requirement is that every interpreter/LSP working in courts and police stations should be registered with one of the recommended registers, ie the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI)".
Importantly, paragraph 10.1 states:
"Police forces and other CJS agencies that are contemplating outsourcing the provision of interpreters must ensure that this does not compromise compliance with the standards set out in this Agreement. In particular, where the fees payable to interpreters—as distinct from those paid to the intermediary agency—are lower than those contained in the recommended Terms and Conditions for Interpreters in the CJS...they are likely to be unattractive to fully qualified interpreters who are on the NRPSI and CACDP Registers, with the result that the contractor resorts to unqualified interpreters who may not be competent. This is not acceptable."
Finally, annexe B states:
"Any interpreter used within the CJS should be able to prove a measurable level of competence and quality assurance. NRPSI registration provides this, which is why NRPSI registered interpreters are recommended."
For several sectors of the public services, the National Register of Public Service Interpreters acts as a database of interpreters whose competence is not in doubt. The move towards contracting out interpreting services by some police forces is a departure from recommended best practice, and information gathered through freedom of information requests has provided irrefutable evidence of a link between outsourcing and low levels of use of interpreters who are registered with the NRPSI and who hold the DPSI qualification.
The majority of police areas that have not outsourced have an almost exemplary record, and even in the South Wales police force, which uses the lowest number of qualified interpreters, as many as 61 per cent. of interpreters have a qualification. There are reasons why the South Wales police find it particularly difficult to find qualified interpreters.
We can compare that with figures for forces that have outsourced the work and have contracts with other organisations. The number of unregistered interpreters used by police forces that have contracts with Cintra, for instance, ranges from 51 per cent. up to 71 per cent.—the latter figure is for Lincolnshire. An average of 61.8 per cent. of unregistered interpreters are used in such areas. The range of registered interpreters in areas where other agencies have been used is from as few as 12 per cent. up to 49 per cent.—those are the figures for Northumbria and Sussex respectively. The most recent information available is for Cheshire and shows that 29 per cent. of interpreters used in 2007 had the qualification, and 38 per cent. in 2008.
Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence that outsourcing results in non-compliance with the guidance, GMP has not been dissuaded from considering it. Superintendent Wilkinson wrote to me on 5 February. He stated:
"The North West Police Forces, led by GMP, have collaborated to explore the possibility of outsourcing the provision of interpreting services. We are aware of the standards required and will take steps to ensure that outsourcing the service does not compromise compliance with the standards set out in the National Agreement, before any contract is awarded. To date no company has been awarded any contract in respect of interpreter services for GMP...Managing companies will be expected to provide interpreters that are qualified and fully vetted for police work and use NRPSI as first tier. Only in exceptional circumstances would they be allowed to deviate from this specification."
Superintendent Wilkinson also explained that one reason why the force is considering contracting out is that sourcing interpreters is time-consuming and costly. He went on to say:
"Front line policing is supported by many other agencies and third party providers who are experts in their own fields. In respect of interpreting, a lot of police resource is deployed in accessing, engaging, checking, administering and paying large pools of self employed interpreters."
Engaging an agency is clearly about saving time and money, yet there is no evidence to back up the assertion that non-registered interpreters will be used only in exceptional circumstances. Evidence from all the other police forces points to the contrary. Unfortunately, GMP is ignoring that evidence for the sake of saving time and money. That will result in ACPO guidance not being followed. I am due to meet the assistant chief constable at the end of the month to raise my concerns about GMP's plans, and I hope that GMP will take notice. However, what is required is for the Government to intervene and strengthen the guidance or, if necessary, to legislate to ensure that police forces comply.
In fairness to the Government, in their response to me on 2 October last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Maria Eagle acknowledged that there was room for improvement and assured me that her officials were looking into the matter. That was five months ago, however, and I have heard nothing further. In her reply, will the Minister let the House know what progress has been made?
The Under-Secretary also acknowledged in her reply that the guidance was clear and that
"all police forces in England and Wales were recently reminded of the current guidance by the Association of Chief Police Officers. It is unambiguous, especially in terms of quality, and states that 'Forces that do or are considering outsourcing the provision of services to a commercial agency who act as an intermediary for booking and hiring interpreters, are reminded of the need to ensure this outsourcing process does not compromise compliance with the standards set out in the National Agreement. Consideration should be given to ensure that rates of pay and terms and conditions do not act as a disincentive for qualified and/or registered interpreters, preventing them from offering their services and thus damaging service quality'. The guidance makes clear that the agencies concerned should use registered interpreters and police forces are strongly encouraged to ensure that their contract stipulates the use of qualified interpreters."
Unfortunately, that is simply not happening. Pay and conditions are lower in agencies to which interpreting has been outsourced in other police authorities. That acts as a disincentive, preventing registered interpreters from offering their services.
In this short debate, I do not have time to go into the various examples of the problems caused by the use of non-registered interpreters. If the debate were about whether registered interpreters should have priority over non-registered ones, I would address those issues, but the Government have accepted the case for using registered interpreters. Unfortunately, the Under-Secretary made it clear that she believes that the decision to use agencies lies ultimately with chief constables and that it is not appropriate to legislate. That is where I disagree with her. If the use of agencies results in the guidance not being followed, surely it is the job of the Government to intervene. If the Minister is in any doubt about the evidence, I will happily supply her with more facts and figures.
The problem is not new, but the recent move by GMP and other north-western police forces has brought it firmly back on to the agenda. I urge the Minister to re-examine the impact of outsourcing on ensuring the use of registered interpreters and to introduce further guidance against the use of agencies and outsourcing. If that fails, I urge her to legislate against it. If she is not prepared to go that far, will she at least consider taking action where outsourcing and the use of agencies is resulting in a reduction in the use of registered interpreters? Will she also commit to discussing the implications of outsourcing with GMP and making it clear that if GMP's commitments to maintaining the use of qualified interpreters are not kept, the force will be expected to scrap the use of the agency employed?
In conclusion, my constituent Mr. Starr says:
"Interpreters are aware that it is a freelance industry and what is not expected is a guarantee of work—this depends on too many factors. All we are after is that if there are three interpreters in a region in which a region requires an interpreter five times, an NRPSI interpreter is contacted first on all of those occasions".
That just does not happen when police forces outsource to agencies.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Scotland: Interpreter shortage leaves court system tongue tied

Interpreter shortage leaves court system tongue tied
COURT officials are being forced to draft in interpreters from England for a high-profile murder case because of a shortage of qualified Scots-based translators, it has been revealed.
The Crown Office have retained two Czech linguists from England to assist in the trial involving Slovakian man Marek Harcar.
The Scottish Court Service, who provides interpreters for accused persons, have also confirmed they had supplied one Slovak speaker for the case but would only say that he had come from a UK based agency.
Mr Harcar, 33, is accused of the murder of Moira Jones in May last year and his case, which is due to last three weeks, is due to begin at the High Court in Glasgow.
Prosecutors have confirmed they are to bring two Czech translators from England for the trial and the Scottish Court Service have admitted that they too have been forced to look south of the border for interpreters in the recent past.
Scottish interpreting agencies have recently come in for criticism after claims their translators were poorly trained and not qualified to assist in trials.
In November last year Sheriff James Tierney halted the trial of Kyzsztof Kucharski on the second day of evidence after it was revealed his interpreter had no qualifications.
Scottish courts only prefer interpreters to have the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI) – in England this is the base requirement.
One industry source said the reluctance to introduce this standard and professionalise the industry has led to a dearth of qualified and competent interpreters in Scotland – forcing officials to look elsewhere and shell-out tax-payers’ money on accommodation and expenses.
The source added: “Until there is a move to create the framework to have full-time, professional linguists employed in Scotland, this problem is not going to go away.”
The Scottish Court Service have spent more than £3m on interpreters in the last five years.
They confirmed that sourcing qualified interpreters was an issue which was being looked into.
A spokesman for the service said: “There are challenges in providing interpreters in courts where the business is essentially demand led.
“In one recent case interpreters were brought in from south of the border due to the non availability on the dates in question of suitably qualified interpreters in Scotland. We continue to monitor the situation.”
The Crown Office confirmed they have sourced two Czech interpreters from England for Mr Harcar’s case but would not say whether this was due to a lack of qualified interpreters here. They have also employed French and Polish interpreters from Scotland for the case.
A spokeswoman said: “The Crown has responsibility for sourcing interpreters for Crown witnesses whose main language is not English.
“In accordance with the procurement contract that the Crown has for interpreting services, we have engaged two Czech interpreters, and one each of French and Polish interpreters. The fees are commercial in confidence, in accordance with the terms of the contract.
“The Czech interpreters have been booked for five days, the Polish interpreter for two days, and the French interpreter for three days.“