Reduction in interpreting rates
I write rather than as an interpreter as a criminal defence advocate of 48 years' experience mainly in the West Midlands Courts.
I also draw on extensive experience throughout that time in working through, with and WITHOUT interpreters/translators.
That latter circumstance, it goes without saying, is a procedural, philosophical and moral impossibility.
For fifteen years I was intensively involved in a bespoke course based at City University Birmingham for the training of legal interpreter students in any number of languages.
As an integral part of my practising life my duties entailed interactions with suspects at police stations and the like regulatory environments, accused and their witnesses in office, home and other environments and in both Magistrates' and Crown Courts.
There has throughout that time been an exponential increase in the requirement for interpreters/translators and for them to attain a portfolio of enabling skills analogous to and as exacting as those rightly expected from all other professional participants in the process.
I recall those times when an interpreted case in a Court was such a rare event that it attracted an audience of those other participants.
We were all feeling our way; I shudder to imagine quite how much damage we unwittingly did; routinely, suspects at police stations, Defendants at Court, complainants and witnesses were spoken OF rather than TO by the voices of authority and those of other professional participants.
When addressed directly IF AT ALL, suspects and Defendants, complainants and witnesses were notified according to the official perception of what they needed to know for the smooth working of the system.
Their cases by and large were conducted in their physical though unenlightened presence. They were identified, spoken of as though absent in the language alien to them and then in accordance with authority's perceived needs informed of what had been decided about them and their cases in their metaphysical absence.
The process was effected through the medium of whoever might be available to "interpret" in the required language or often a generically more or less similar tongue.
That "interpreter" might well have been a family member or friend of whichever party to the case or merely an interested non-participant seated in the public gallery.
Failing all else, the Defendant would be addressed as to the outcome in loud, laboured English and then pointed towards the door.
Today's near equivalents, ever and alarmingly gaining traction, are the over use of the likes of Language Line AND EVEN GoogleTranslate.
We very much had forgiven ourselves for our earlier and largely understandable ignorance and striven to champion professional interpreter/translator provision.
Adequate training and career progression and even remotely satisfactory remuneration for professional services so indispensible to the system were from the first identified as a challenge and so it has proved ever since.
The police and Court services themselves took measures in raising awareness of these procedural and other imperatives, to include recognition of the professional status of the interpreter.
Always there was so much to be done; there were huge and highly commendable strides in the delivery of due process; and then the cost implications provoked an unworthy, unprofessional hankering after the thin, disregarding gruel of the much earlier (non)provision.
This has been-and remains-a bitter shame and a profound disappointment to those very many of us who voluntarily joined forces from all the participating agencies in order through a growing mutual understanding to put flesh on the bones of what had been at best a skeletal and suspect provision.
Like other professional bodies the Law Society of England and Wales issued and keeps under constant revision practitioner guidance over working through the medium of the interpreter/translator.
Those at the coal face of provision in the police and Court services embraced these initiatives with commendable enthusiasm.
There was much to be proud of in all of that.
And yet now what a fall from grace on the part our myopic paymaster HM Government. Myopic it is since concerned practitioners across the board now brace ourselves for the next distressing, unpardonable and embarrassing clutch of miscarriage of justice cases.
Would that we had collectively and once and for all learnt from suchlike as the Iqbal Begum case but no.
The most egregious example of rowing back has arrived with the regressive, under researched and unnecessary outsourcing of most provision to the ramshackle, over regarding Applied Language Solutions as a little later devoured by Capita.
As to the utter, wasteful folly of that exercise, excoriating censure from all informed quarters has followed. Assertions as to improved delivery after early "teething problems" are self serving and largely illusory.
The earlier arrangements were universally understood, trusted and WORKED. In stark embarrassing contrast and as well documented, the outsourced provision which replaced them is patchy at best and wished upon us all at substantial additional WASTED cost to the exchequer.
And now we have another example of rowing back with the proposed reduction in Home Office fees.
These are bound to constitute a deprofessionalising trend with any number of highly trained interpreters/translators demoralised and under regarded to the point of disengaging from the publicly funded interpreter/translator community.
Yet further provocations of this nature imperil the family silver of a state trained and professional cadre. That could but damage the integrity of the system.
Please refrain from this folly.
Solicitor and Higher Court Advocate
12/15 Unity Walk
Past Chair: Law Society Criminal Law Committee
Formerly of the Society's Council and its Human Rights Committee