Monday, August 06, 2012

Speaking in Tongues

The interpreter scandal is not going away. Most magistrates have encountered difficulties with the on-the-cheap service provided by ALS, and there have recently been instances of defendants being remanded in custody overnight or over a weekend because the booked interpreter has failed to attend.
This isn't just about money, it's about justice, down at the sharp end.

50 comments:

  1. Obviously low priority as Johnny Foreigner claims not to be able to converse in the Queen's English!

    Sad to see what is happening. Irish judges speak out too much! No doubt defence are poor quality too? They should be trying to raise hell.

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    1. I would love to send the police down to the nearest ALS office with orders to return with either an interpreter or the most senior person present to explain why he or she should not be locked up for contempt of court.

      They have disobeyed an order of the court.

      Having a few of their senior staff doing the occasional night in chokey may just focus the mind - a little.

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  2. In all these cutbacks, one golden rules survives. If you pay cheap, you get cheap.

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    1. Where does that put magistrates?

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    2. I meant from the government. Brits!

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  3. Where on earth has this all-pervading myth come from, that if you take a service away from a not-for-profit organisation and award it to a commercial organisation, the outcome will be a cheaper and better service?
    On a similar analysis, instead fo a general election every five years, why not award Capita a 5 year contract to run the country; on second thoughts THAT might lead to an improvement.

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  4. Robert the Biker6 August 2012 12:51

    Why are WE paying for interpretersfor people who live in this country (often for many years) but do not trouble to learn enough of the language to ask their way in the street.
    Have you the impression that some at least are trying to elect sympathy of the 'poor baby me, no understandy' variety. In most European countries, you go by the national language for ALL interactions with government, or you pay for your own interpreter.

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    1. For most interaction with the state I would agree with you, but a trial is an involuntary process and it would not be fair to the accused if he could not understand the proceeding. Are you suggesting foreigners should not get fair trials?

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    2. Robert the Biker6 August 2012 14:16

      Touch of the old straw man there! The issue is MY wallet being mugged yet again for a non-benefit. Plenty of 'foreigners' speak excellent English (I work with them)and I do not see why foreign criminals should get special benefits which I would be unlikely to get in their countries.

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    3. It's in the Human Rights Act, so it's the law.

      If you don't like it write to your MP.

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    4. Robert the Biker7 August 2012 13:15

      That'll do a lot of good won't it, since EU law overrides national law and the HR legislation has been incorporated into our legal system (and gold plated, misinterpreted and used to cosset criminals by our wonderful judges). The fact that it's 'the law' doesn't make it either right or just.

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    5. If you were on holiday in Spain, and for reasons you didn't know you were arrested in the street, and ended up in court - it wouldn't be too much to ask for someone to translate everything into English for you would it? At least within the ECHR countries this is a reciprocal right, all countries are obliged (and do) provide translation in criminal trials.

      It's not just about the Defendant's rights anyway - we want to be able to deal with people accused of crimes, and convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. That's all rendered a bit difficult if we can't understand a bloody word they're saying.

      So yay for free translation, but I would be open to the additional cost of it being added to costs orders etc on conviction.

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    7. Robert,

      Neither the Human Rights Act nor the European Convention on Human Rights are EU law.

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    8. Travelling Wilbury7 September 2012 12:01

      But this EU Directive IS law: http://www.eulita.eu/council-adopts-eu-directive-rights-interpretation-and-translation-criminal-proceedings

      ...I don't know.. "all these foreign crims coming over and taking jobs from our homegrown criminals" ...
      Interpreters are used in the courts for victims and witnesses as well as defendants, people.

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  5. In my experience most "Johnnie Foreigners" can understand the basics but their understanding evaporates when they get caught. Having said that we have to do the right thing and if that means they have to be unfortunately locked up whilst we sort things out , then I do not think that is too terrible a price to pay. At least we aren't torturing them or applying electrodes to their dangly bits.

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    1. there is of course also a cost in locking them up. And I do think that if we are to subject them to the English criminal justice system, then there will have to be interpreters. Remember also that by no means all have 'lived in this country for many years'.

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  6. Had an ALS interpreter at court today. She was very good and very pretty, so double bonus.

    Unfortunately, she didn't show up until around 4pm, which was a bummer.

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  7. Had a very competent interpreter in court last week, who, after taking the interpreter's oath, said "And I would like to assure you, Your Worships, that I do not work for ALS"
    And to Robert the Biker: not all foreign defendants will be criminals. Believe it or not, some are actually acquitted!

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    1. So if this court was able to get round needing to use ALS the question are, how was it done and why aren't we all?

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  8. I had one case where it was the defendant who - in perfect Sarf London speak - told the Bench "The interpreter is not translating what you have just said properly".

    'Nuff said.

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  9. A case I was sitting on last week had to be adjourned for a lengthy period as we had no interpreter for one of the key witnesses. This is justice delayed and thus justice denied whichever way you look at it.

    As it happens, I am pretty fluent in several EU languages, but were I to be either facing charges or involved in court proceedings in any of the countries where those languages are spoken, I would most definitely want an interpreter. It's sometimes difficult enough to understand some of the advocates who appear before us, so just imagine doing so in another language.

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    1. Agreed - the terminology used in court - sentencing, bail, witnesses, statements, evidence just to pick some basic ones, is likely to be outside the conversational level of English.

      Also the syntax of cross-examination can confuse native English speakers - "But in fact you did not respond negatively, you responded positively with the answer 'yes'?" takes a bit of computation before someone can know what answer they should give. Unfortunately, much of it is beyond the bottom third of the translators as well.

      I don't practice in the Magistrates Court, but I regularly represent Appellants in their asylum appeals, where some of the interpretation is dreadful and the consequences are extremely serious.

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    2. Couldn't agree more, MotVG: my French, German etc pass muster in many situations, but I couldn't rely on complete understanding if faced with the local judicial arcana, not to mention advocates' tricks, hence I might unfairly finish up in the nick. On the two occasions I've had Portuguese interpreters in court, I've spotted errors in the stuff I could understand. Neither crucial. But I wonder what I miss when hearing Romanian, Lithuanian, Polish, etc.

      Baldybeak

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  10. Favourite court interpreter moment:

    I- I'm sorry Sir, I have to keep asking him to repeat himself, he has a speech impediment. I can understand him but it takes a couple of goes.
    D- [mumble mumble]
    I- He's angrily telling me that he doesn't have a speech impediment, and I'm not to say it again. [pause] But he does. He has a really bad speech impediment.
    D- [mumble mumble]
    I- He says he is sacking me.
    Judge - tell him he can't, we're getting on with it.

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    1. Not unlike the hoarse defendant story:

      Defence advocate: 'My Lord, my client can't speak out strongly enough - he has a sore throat.'

      Judge: 'why doesn't he suck a Fisherman's Friend?'

      Defence advocate following instructions: 'My Lord, I'm instructed that he thinks he's in enough trouble as it is.'

      Baldybeak

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    2. Hang on a minute - interpreters must clarify with the person whose case it is.

      Far from unprofessional, it is a total dereliction of duty for any interpreter to ever just blurt out what they think they have said. It must be what the person really has said.

      It doesn't show any lack of understanding of the language. It is sometimes that someone has a very strong accent, or they mumble, or they trail off at the end of sentences, expecting the interpreter to know what the invisible (or rather, inaudible) words were.

      In the case of British nationals who are interpreters, it's the defendant/witness. In the case of non-British ones, sometimes you do get a solicitor, witness or even judge with a strong accent.

      Clarification to ensure the exact statement made is interpreted correctly is an absolute must.

      In Portuguese, the difference between 'sessenta' and 'setenta' could be crucial, or 'Junho' and 'Julho' - for any case where a number or the month could be of importance. Those are merely two examples.

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  11. A question. Do you have a means of complaining or making public the failure rate of ALS?

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    1. The Justice Select Committee is launching a call for written evidence on the provision of interpretation and translation services since Applied Language Solutions (ALS) began operating as the Ministry of Justice’s sole contractor for language services in February 2012.
      Specifically we will seek to explore six areas:
      The rationale for changing arrangements for the provision of interpreter services
      The nature and appropriateness of the procurement process
      The experience of courts and prisons in receiving interpretation services that meet their needs
      The nature and effectiveness of the complaints process
      The steps that have been taken to rectify under-performance and the extent to which they have been effective
      The appropriateness of arrangements for monitoring the management of the contract, including the quality and cost-effectiveness of the service delivered.
      The deadline for submissions is Monday 3 September 2012.

      http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news/interpretation-and-translation-services/

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    2. Please do submit your experiences of the ALS court interpreting system to the Justice Select Committee.

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  12. Efforts are being made to collate reports of failures, but the only people who really know are HMCTS and ALS, and both of those bodies have good cause not to dig too deeply.

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    1. For a very long list of these failures, take a look at our Linguist Lounge, a not-for-profit website run by registered public service interpreters (RPSIs) for registered public service interpreters.
      http://www.linguistlounge.org

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  13. Have you seen latest guidance from the senior presiding judge on blogging? Where does that leave you? I enjoy this blog

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  14. I, too, have just read the lastest guidance, issued today. I hope this doens't mean we're going to lose you.

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  15. anyone got a link to it??

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  16. Been trying to find a link to it with no success. It came as a PDF attached to an email. Braodly speaking, it says that holders of any judicial office should refrain from identifying themselves as such in any blogs, including twitter and the like. Explicitly includes anonymous blogs.

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    1. The source for the guidance document is on a password protected secure site. However, the somewhat ominous (i.e. for this valued blog) wording of the guidance is as follows:

      "Judicial office holders should be acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves, both in and out of court, in such a way as to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.

      Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer (sic) holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

      The above guidance also applies to blogs which purport to be anonymous. This is because it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered.

      Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith. Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action. It is also recommended that all judicial office holders familiarise themselves with the new IT and Information Security Guidance which will be available shortly."

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  17. Great.

    So one of the best ways to keep the public informed of what is really going on (not to mention to inspire that same public to join the judiciary)is being taken away from us?

    (I note that blogging by the judiciary is not prohibited however : merely blogging about the judiciary. So providing he sticks to non-judicial subjects and doesn't tell us he is a magistrate, BS should be okay. Phew...)

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  18. SouthLondonJP8 August 2012 21:30

    Twitter is also explicitly mentioned. I removed the fact that I was a JP from my Twitter profile a couple of months ago as it happens, but I do sometimes comment on cases in the public domain...I shall probably now cease to do so...

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    1. Not good enough to be good in future - looks like we have to go back and delete stuff in the past (as per Orwell)

      I'm looking at the sheer quantity of my words over time (some of which I'm quite proud of) and I'm thinking "is this gig worth the hassle ?"

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  19. Rex_imperator8 August 2012 23:29

    So, as an independent observer who may or may not be a magistrate (or a Martian, or a part time thrill seeker) I can comment as if I were an observer sitting at the back of the court but not as a magistrate (might). So for example I could say that in a court close to where I live a defendant appeared but no ALS interpreter turned up etc etc. what I can't say is that in a case I sat on today ...etc...

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  20. I'm thinking of taking this up through the MA. It seems an attack on free speech

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  21. I remember that "David Copperfield" attracted a similar response some years ago now. Tim Berners Low said that the internet is for everyone. There are too many people around in high places who wish it were not so.
    Maybe I'm biased, but it seems to me bias and partiality only crop up in the contributions made by those of us who read this blog.
    Incidentally, where does this guidance leave me? I am a retired magistrate entitled to use the initials JP (except mostly you can't; another ruling from above), by virtue of being on the Supplementary List. Does that count as holding judicial office?

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  22. I look forward to reading Bystander's comment.

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    1. He is probably a bit busy editing all of my posts in which I identified myself as a member of the judiciary.




      Ooooops - done it again....

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  23. north bucks jp9 August 2012 09:12

    This guidance does not appear to have been circulated generally (indeed Sub Rosa says that it is on a password-protected site) so until it is - and that means through our Justices' Clerk or direct from the Lord Chancellor - it remains an enigma.

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  24. and today we get this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19186942. No, it's not going away, is it?

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    1. north bucks jp9 August 2012 11:26

      And not only is it on the BBC News website - it is a headline item on Radio 4 news this morning, so at last this scandal is starting to get the airing for which Bystander has been pushing for months. Well done BS!

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  25. Some of us may or may not have stripped our blogs of references to our little hobby. It'll be a shame if future entries have to be on the basis of 'a court chairman's eyebrows were seen from the public gallery today to rise when ...'

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Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.