"The case open in chambers" turns to "the case was closed" and other ALS failures
On Monday, 21/05/2012, I attended Hull Crown Court for a job with the Crown Prosecution Service. I was asked to interpret for 2 Polish speaking witnesses in the case of affray and the defendants were 4 Polish speaking as well. It looked like a long day was ahead of me.
It started great (sarcastic): I turned up for 11 am, as requested, only to find out upon arrival that witnesses have not been asked to come before 2 pm and the case was not listed to be heard till about 12 pm. So I took the chance and tried to locate where the defendants would be. They were all answering on bail so it was pretty much easy. Probably every Polish interpreter is capable of recognising their fellow countrymen. The distinctive slavonic outlook tells us everything. I sat in the concourse, quite near them and listened out for the ALS interpreter(s) to speak. I expected at least a couple since there was 4 defendants to interpret for.
The defendants appeared with their families so it took me a while to work out which one of them was the interpreter. There was only one!!! She appeared to be a well-dressed lady with curly hair and glasses. She spoke very good Polish, so I assumed she was native Polish speaking. Finally, when we first made it to court, she appeared to be a little confused as what do to. She first followed the defendants to the dock and had to be called out by the usher to stand in the witness box to affirm. Although it did not look as though she knew what to do, I can excuse her, as all of us had their first time in courts (so much for the sole provider's "experienced linguists").
The judge was running late, as he was tied up in another courtroom. 15 minutes later, the barristers decided we would all wait outside for the judge to be free. About 5 minutes later, we entered the court again, only to find out the case would open "in chambers". What was my surprise, when I heard the ALS lady said "you have to leave, the case was closed". The defendants' families and defendants themselves looked a bit surprised too, but we did as we were told. Unfortunately, opening in chambers did mean I would not be able to see if the interpreter got sworn. Nevertheless, when they finally let us back in, I started to observe how she worked.
Was I at all surprised when she did not interpret simultaneously what the barristers and the judge were saying? Not at all. How can you do simultaneous interpreting for 4 people without any equipment? Unfortunately, at some point the barristers started presenting some evidence to the judge, so I had to leave the room, so that my interpreting might not get contaminated by what they presented (I do it just in case). When I got back, they were about to read the charges to the defendants. Then it went like this:
Court Clerk: Mr ........, you are charged with affray.
Interpreter: You caused a brawl.
CC: The particulars are that on............ you used or threatened unlawful violence
INT: You used aggresiveness.
CC: towards another and your conduct was such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness
INT: towards other and behaved so bad other would fear for their safety
CC: present at the scene to fear for his personal safety.
INT: that they were scared.
I thought: brilliant, a classic example of lack of experience and knowledge of the appropriate vocabulary. Then it was even worse. When the barristers finally put it to the judge that all 4 defendants wished to plead guilty, the judge started addressing them. Quite usual, he was explaining what the impact on the victims was and so on.
About 20% of it was interpreted to maybe one or two defendants at time. It was not surprising, as the ALS linguist sat with two defendants on her left and two on her right. Nevertheless, there was very little simulatenous interpreting. At some point I started wondering, how she would cope with at least getting the sentence across to them. It seemed to me she only interpreted to them what they were given in months (suspended) without telling them they were getting community orders and restraining orders, too!!! I can only hope she was not as bad when it came to consecutive interperting and that barristers explained to their clients what the implications of breach of those could be.
And one more thing, the Court Clerk told her she would only get her form signed from 10:30 am, as that is what it said on her paperwork the interpreter was supposed to turn up at. I am not sure what time she was ordered to appear by ALS, however, she was not too happy with it.