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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.