Interpreting the rule of law
The current practice among governments and companies is to treat language services as any other commodity, the result being that the quality they promise citizens and customers is not what they provide.
Kontax - HTT - Bihorel - France - To someone who has lived in a country where there is no rule of law, to sacrifice justice to monetary concerns is the greatest crime of all. Yet that is exactly what Britain’s Ministry of Justice has done in contracting its court interpreting services nationwide to a single, inexperienced company – which then sought to pay interpreters sub-standard wages in order to keep to budget, and make further profit.
Quite apart from the resulting mistrials due to amateur interpreting – the qualified court interpreters rightly refusing to work for the company – and the occasional no trial at all when the interpreters failed to attend the court proceedings, it is a poor but accurate reflection of a world in which one of its richest countries, the greatest centre of financial power and the supposed birthplace of modern democracy is unwilling to provide a fundamental right, that of a fair trial.
The case also illustrates the current practice among governments and companies to treat language services as any other commodity, the result being that the quality they promise citizens and customers is not what they provide.
Furthermore, a new law ensuring the right of defendants to information during criminal proceedings throughout the European Union was recently published in the Official Journal. The European Commission proposed the law in July 2010 as part of a series of fair trial rights to be applied throughout the EU.
Among the rights granted by the law, defendants are entitled to interpretation and translation in any language if they do not understand that of the proceedings.
For interpreters and those who need their services, from street level when suspects try to explain to police trying to understand them, to the war criminals heard at the international court of justice in The Hague, those rights are not just pieces of paper, they can mean years in prison or freedom.
At the moment, the chances that citizens will be properly informed of their rights vary across the EU. Yet even they are lucky compared with most other countries where no such rights exist.
Luck and justice, however, have nothing in common. Access to a fair trial is a fundamental human right and should be guaranteed in every country, whether rich or poor. Indeed, ensuring the same quality of justice for all is part of any country’s true wealth.
Governments and companies must recognize that language services are unlike any other commodity, and should not simply be contracted to the provider making the lowest bid, but to the one offering the highest quality.
Because in a competitive world, quality makes all the difference. And because unlike justice, where you get what you deserve, in translation, you get what you pay for. The problem is that at present in the UK, that comes down to the same thing.