Qualifications, credentials and vetting: All interpreters working within the criminal justice system must be fully qualified. If not, trials could break down or an injustice carried out, at a huge cost to the client and state. To prevent identity theft - which does happen - all professional interpreters’ credentials must be routinely checked. This doesn’t happen at present.
Professional interpreters and translators require a range of minimum standards, qualifications and experience. NUPIT believes that each should be assigned a coloured card to inform the service and client the level that their interpreter has attained, as currently occurs with sign language interpreters on their ID badges. This would prevent agencies utilising unqualified linguists, or those that simply speak a second language.
Interpreters should also only accept work within their competency, or face a conduct procedure, like other registered professions. Vetting procedures should be carried out prior to the qualified interpreter taking up any assignment.
Resulting from agencies severely cutting interpreters’ pay and conditions, some agencies find themselves short of available qualified interpreters for certain assignments, since qualified professionals can’t afford to stay. They therefore only have access to unqualified interpreters which could compromise the quality of service and greatly increase the probability of a mistake occurring. The consequences could cause the imprisonment of an innocent person or see someone who was not responsible for a crime or accident found at fault.
NUPIT believes that agencies should not be able to assign work to unqualified interpreters, even if they speak the language well. Standards must be set and enforced, rather than agencies being self-regulating and remaining unaccountable.
Outsourcing is a false economy. Whilst the Ministry of Justice has highlighted the costs associated with booking and paying interpreters individually, it has not mentioned the costs of using agencies. The unintentional consequences of such decisions, will lead to a rapid reduction in the pool of public service interpreters. In Scotland, in 2009, a contract to provide court services was contracted to a commercial agency resulting in a mass exodus of qualified interpreters. Such services are known for their poor quality in interpreting, delays, and abandoned trials and miscarriages of justice could occur. In fact several court cases have been thrown out because of poor interpreting.
The National Agreement
The National Agreement should become statutory to provide a sound foundation to ensure quality services. This - together with the National Register’s plans for an independent regulatory body - form what the judiciary needs for the future. Only interpreters who have undergone the professional training and passed the exams, should get the opportunity to deliver services under the National Agreement. People’s future lives depend on this work being carried out accurately. If they do not have the right training or skill, they simply cannot do the job objectively and appropriately. The National Agreement allows for exceptions in a narrowly defined set of circumstances where clients speak a ‘rare language’; this must be justifiable and documented. The National Register and the National Agreement must be maintained.
The EU Directive
The European Commission has adopted the EU directive on the rights to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. It means that this directive must now be adopted into domestic legislation of member states within three years. For more information of the directive please visit the European Parliament site or the European Area of Freedom Security & Justice blog.