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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. 
“Slashed”
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.”