The Linguist

The Linguist 55,5

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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8 The Linguist Vol/55 No/5 2016 FEATURES What is the impact of remote interpreting on defendants attending court via video link, asks Yvonne Fowler H ave you ever experienced a holiday crisis and needed an interpreter? Fortunately it happened to me only once, in Prague, when a talented pickpocket leant against me in a crowded tram and fingered my purse out of my handbag. The insurance claim necessitated a frustrating visit to the local police station, which ended with me having an extended phone conversation with an interpreter, which was subsequently relayed to the police officer in Czech (without reference to me). Until you have been in this situation, it is difficult to understand how utterly powerless you feel as you are forced to rely on the competence and integrity of the interpreter you are assigned. Imagine, then, the loneliness of being in a foreign prison, where you might not be able to communicate with any of the inmates (and certainly not with the staff). This scenario is becoming more and more common in UK courts, prisons and immigration detention centres, which have high proportions of foreign nationals, many of whom do not speak English well. It was a coincidence that, during the very period that I began researching this topic in 2011, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) contracted out all court interpreting services to Capita (now the largest business process outsourcing and professional services company in the UK). Many qualified interpreters were apparently unwilling to work for a company that offered poor rates of pay and reportedly cared more about the bottom line than about competent public service interpreting (PSI), leaving too few trained interpreters to service the courts. Evidence of wasted costs, aborted trials, non-attendance of interpreters and linguistic incompetence began to mount, and a new contract was finally awarded to thebigword this year (interpreters wait with bated breath to see whether the new contract will offer better conditions when it begins in October). As an experienced trainer of court interpreters, I figured that, if non-English- speaking defendants were already disadvantaged by unfamiliarity with the language of the court, they might be further disadvantaged by appearing in court via video link and not being co-present with their interpreters – particularly if those interpreters were unqualified and untrained, as evidence seemed to suggest. Courtroom procedures and practice How do prisoners come before the courts? Normal practice is that, while they are on remand and their cases are being investigated, they appear in court not in person but by prison video link, supposedly to save money. Go into any magistrates or crown court and you will see one case after another being heard in this way. As an educator of legal interpreters over a period of 23 years, I am used to the courtroom and how it operates. But investigating interpreting through video link seemed to involve intensive observation not The interpreter magically transforms from being almost invisible to being highly visible Prisoner's eye view IMAGES © SHUTTERSTOCK

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