It is generally accepted that interpreting provision for the courts has been rather less than efficient over the last three months. It has borne a frightening situation and now an alleged breach of the contract.

As courts have given up with alarming regularity and taken it upon themselves to book interpreters direct. Many of whom on the NRPSI refuse to do so as they understand that working directly for the courts would give the Ministry of Justice an impression all was well. Courts have begged and pleaded for the old system to come back to no avail. We still have a stand off. The three month review period was up at the end of last month yet no information has been released.

It is clear that the main contractor is struggling to fill bookings. Requests for interpreters are being farmed out to other agencies.

I’ve seen three different Sign Language agencies filling bookings either from the main contractor or direct from exasperated court staff. This is aside from the main preferred supplier for Sign Language Interpreting who it would seem does not even get sight of all the bookings as the system is so inefficient.

Firstly if you are a Sign Language Interpreter and you do not wish to work for the main contractor, i.e. ALS, then taking any booking from any agency or court is nevertheless helping them fulfil the contract. You can make an informed decision. If you accept solicitors assignments be warned. The judge may get you to interpret anyway. I’ve had three of these bookings and in all three I was expected by all involved to interpret for the court. Once they purposely booked me to interpret for the court even though the booking came via the defence counsel as the judge explained they could not source an interpreter any other way.

Secondly it is not only BSL agencies that bookings have been given to in an attempt to get anyone in there last minute. One spoken language agency accepted a Sign Language booking for court recently and put in someone with level 3 BSL (British Sign Language qualification equivalent of high school), no interpreter training and who therefore could not have been on the NRCPD register. The Deaf relay interpreter stated they had to look at the solicitor and lip read them to relay this to the client as they had no hope of getting the information from the ‘signer’ in court. I have decided not to name the level 3 signer who runs his own company for unregistered interpreters and clearly does not understand the risks of interpreting in court before competent to do so.

It is clear this is a large contract and one that the contractor can not fill alone. As a result we have this situation: not only is the MoJ not monitoring the contract, it would appear the contractor cannot even monitor itself. Standards have suffered. The risks of using unregistered Interpreters in court whilst the most vulnerable of Deaf people are the ones most likely to be in the system do not bear thinking about. There was a promise that only NRCPD registered interpreters would used in court. A contract clause which has now been breached. Was a level 3 in court the first time it has happened under this contract? Who knows. More importantly will it be the last?

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  • Paul Hann
    I'd like to correct a misunderstanding. As a BSL<>English Interpreter I am regulated by the ITI Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices not the NRCPD. BSL<>English interpreters can choose to be regulated by various bodies: ITI, SASLI.

    It is not the case that BSL<>English interpreting providers and courts must use only NRCPD registered interpreters, it is clear that courts may use interpreters from many regulated bodies that have a regulatory framework.

    Paul Hann, BSL<>English Interpreter, MITI, MVLP