23 Apr /13

Court interpreting services

Until last February, courts in England and Wales hired freelance legal interpreters from a national register. Now, legal interpreters for court hearings are provided by a single private language services company. By awarding a near monopoly to one interpreting agency the government was aiming to save nearly £20m a year.

However, the privatization contract has been severely criticized in a National Audit Office report which pointed out that the service provider contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide court interpreting services did not have enough staff and as a result trials and hearings were being disrupted, causing chaos and costly delays. A separate investigation by the Public Accounts Committee from December of 2012 further revealed that the interpreting provider tried to cover up its lack of qualified personnel by registering fictitious individuals as well as the managements’ pet animals into their database. To make matters even worse, hundreds of professional interpreters have been boycotting the company as a protest against the severely reduced fees the agency would offer independent interpreters, thereby compounding the already existing shortage of qualified court interpreters.

Only a year after restructuring the process, the Ministry of Justice faces an embarrassing situation. Not only did the monopolization of interpreting services failed to accomplish its primary objective, namely to reduce expenditures, but also created a backlog of cases that will cost millions to bring up to par. Sir Alan Beith, chair of the Justice Select Committee, commented on the situation by saying: “The Ministry of Justice’s handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic. It did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts, it failed to heed warnings from the professionals concerned, and it did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts.”

The case of the British Ministry of Justice sows that professional court interpreting is not only a crucial part of the court system that needs to be managed professionally in order to prevent significant negative side-effects for the entire legal system. In addition, the story highlights the dangers of monopolizing service contracts and reminds us that quality flourishes best in competitive environments. To help your firm select the best possible interpreting service for your needs, have a look at the following tips.

How to identify quality court interpreting services?

  • Legal interpreting guidelines differ by jurisdiction, yet most jurisdictions require court interpreters to abide by an official code of conduct. Make sure your provider is familiar with the local guidelines and their interpreters have the necessary certifications, clearance, and training.
  • Court interpreters must be comfortable with the chosen mode of interpreting, and should only interpret if they are fully able to take on the responsibility. Accordingly, ask your provider about specialized interpreters. If you are looking for a simultaneous interpreter, make sure that your interpreter is an expert in that technique you’re looking for a linguist accompanying you to a business meeting, ask for an interpreter focusing on these kinds of assignments. Similarly, make sure provider offers interpreters that specialize in specific fields, such as legal, medical, business, and military.
  • Courtroom codes of conduct often require legal interpreters to prepare for an assigned case by reviewing any material previously provided. A provider that is not asking you for supplemental case information, briefing material, and other information to prepare their interpreter is not preparing their employees professionally for the assignment.

Contact EVS Translations to find a legal interpreter who has the appropriate experience and language fluency for your case and jurisdiction.