The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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30 The Linguist Vol/59 No/1 2020 OPINION & COMMENT Email with your views Questions in a safe space I found Anna Ware's article 'A Safe Space' (TL58,6) very disturbing indeed for a number of reasons. First, because it identifies some gross breaches of the interpreters' code of conduct. Although the article does say that "steps can be taken to address the unprofessional behaviour of the individual interpreter if it is identified by service providers", there is no mention of whether this has taken place. If the incidents took place during Home Office interviews, then surely the Home Office should be notified, along with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), if the interpreters are registered, and any representative bodies they belong to, so disciplinary action can be taken for breach of their code of conduct. What I find most disturbing about those breaches is that they refer to one of the most basic principles for interpreters, namely the need for absolute impartiality! Community interpreting students are taught from day one that if you feel unable to interpret in a situation because of your personal beliefs or prejudices, then you should withdraw on the basis of a conflict of interest. If we feel uncomfortable in a certain setting, this should not affect our accuracy in any way. If we can't do that, then we must withdraw. This is so basic! I also find that the solution to the problem that the article puts forward is rather naïve: "putting together a list of LGBTI+ Anna Ware's article (TL58,6) highlights issues in regard to interpreting for LGBTI+ asylum seekers, where cultural and social prejudice – whether actual or potential – may affect the quality of the service provided. "Although bias should not be brought into an interpreting session, unfortunately we have heard of times when an interpreter has brought their religious or cultural prejudice into a conversation with an LGBTI+ asylum seeker," she writes. The same issue is discussed in a report headed 'Apostates Risk Abuse and Asylum Discrimination' in the December newsletter of Humanists UK: "We found that apostates are claiming that interpreters have refused to represent them, or have refused to translate parts of their asylum application because they fear repeating 'blasphemies' themselves." In its response to the 2016 report 'Fleeing Persecution: Asylum claims in the UK on religious freedom grounds', the Home Office states that "all LGBTI asylum case decisions are reviewed by a Technical Specialist before being issued to the applicant". Its caseworkers "receive mandatory unconscious bias training to ensure that they approach all cases impartially and without prejudice," and Home Office interpreters are "expected to act on an impartial basis and in accordance with the interpreters' Code of Conduct. We employ interpreters for their professional skills and cannot discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs." Non-discrimination across the board is the correct official position. Correspondingly, the CIOL Code of Conduct requires that "members/chartered linguists will carry out all work impartially". Anna Ware, noting that religious or cultural prejudice sometimes occurs, suggests LGBTI+ asylum seekers often "feel naturally more at ease with professional interpreters who are also LGBTI+, as there is more assurance that there will be no judgement". She proposes "a list of LGBTI+ interpreters". But is a group or identity match an appropriate basis for the professional interpreter-client relationship? Even if it were, is it generalisable? It's not obvious, for example – leaving aside how it might fit with employment laws – how it might be extended to asylum claims based on religious persecution arising out of difference of belief. The article raises questions of principle and also of practicality. Tony Bell FCIL interpreters so we can offer this service to vulnerable individuals who… would benefit from using an LGBTI+ interpreter". Surely, what is needed is re-training for the interpreters involved, so that total impartiality can be guaranteed as it should be. Actually, it could be argued that empathy might make impartiality more difficult for the interpreter. As an interpreter, I have worked for a number of LGBTI+ clients in a variety of settings, including Home Office interviews. What I think, feel or believe about sexual orientation is of no relevance whatsoever to my job. My role is to facilitate communication between both parties impartially and with the utmost accuracy, and that should be the case for all interpreters. Philippe Muriel MCIL Anna Ware replies: I'm afraid I don't know who the interpreters are and therefore cannot comment as to what steps were taken to address this unprofessional conduct. All my agency, Clear Voice, can do is recommend that clients report the interpreter to the appropriate bodies. Philippe Muriel is right that all interpreters acting professionally could interpret for LGBTI+ asylum seekers. There are some particularly sensitive discussions where vulnerable end users may feel more comfortable with LGBTI+ interpreters however, and we also have to be mindful of these needs.

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