in interpreting, profession

Using a Professional is the Only Safeguard – Part 1

This post is part one of two. The first part will explain generally what a profession is and make distinctions between what some may consider a profession and what is truly a profession. The second post will consider the current comments of government surrounding the MoJ and other contracts to further highlight the fallacy behind outsourcing for those that should be considered professionals and the risks the government are incurring with this strategy.
The term profession is often bandied about. Anyone can call themselves a professional: marketeers, IT personnel, plumbers.
Let’s be clear. There is something beyond these albeit worthy roles. This is about a professional. One who has a Code of Ethics or Professional Conduct, a CRB check, has a high level of training, alongside specialised knowledge and skills, belongs to an organised regulator and has responsibility to a community and is concerned with its welfare above all else.
Teachers will tell you the supply teacher is all but gone in the UK. Rather than employ a qualified teacher to plug any gaps in timetables it is the new employee at the front of the class: one who is on a Registered Teacher Programme (RTP), who is not as yet qualified to teach. Or worse, sometimes it is the Teaching Assistant who is left holding the fort.
Psychologists will tell you that work previously done by highly qualified and trained Psychologists is now being done by those trained in IAPT: Improving Access to Psychological Therapies. You now need to pass a one year course to deliver CBT.
Nurses will tell you a lot of their work is now done by Health Care Assistants.
There are many similarities between the above three professions and interpreting, whether spoken or for sign language. You should be bound by a Code of Ethics or Professional Conduct, have an enhanced CRB check, professional insurance, be accessing supervision and be registered with the appropriate professional body in order to work. In fact all the criteria mentioned at the start of this article.
What is different with interpreting and what Sign Language interpreters have been discussing for a long time is the lack of legal protection. Were interpreters to be legally protected, it would be illegal to work as an interpreter unless you were a registered professional in the same way you can not legally work as a doctor if you are struck off the medical register held by the GMC.
Why? This goes back to the list of what it is to be a professional and the responsibility we have to the community we serve. Over the last 25-30 years we have witnessed and heard terrible stories of what happens when you do not have a registered interpreter. We have fought as a profession to raise and safeguard those standards and to continue to develop the profession.
We have heard about the level 2 ‘signer’ work in a court room (the equivalent of conversational French). We have heard about the police tape that got pulled apart by the defence team due to the sub-standard interpreting causing the eventual collapse of a case. We know the all too familiar stories of mishaps, misdiagnoses, even deaths. We all know the students who leave schools and colleges without qualifications because they didn’t understand the ‘communicator’. These aren’t the stories of yesteryear, the bad old days before we had a register and better qualifications, though both of those points are moot. These are fast becoming today’s stories.
You would not allow a Health Care Assistant to draw blood or dispense medication. You would not allow an IAPT practitioner to diagnose someone with schizophrenia. You would not allow a Teaching Assistant to deliver A Level Physics or PSHE. This creates rather than mitigates risk. Risks to standards, to service delivery, to people.
When you allow an untrained, unregistered interpreter to work in a hospital, a courtroom or a police station you play with risk, you create risk. And nobody present can monitor that.
It is why we have Codes of Ethics for professionals. Interpreters, in the same way as other professions, cannot always be monitored. They are responsible for monitoring their own actions and behaviours, to be responsible for themselves and those they serve. Codes of Ethics were borne out of the Hippocratic Oath, the fundamental principle of which is do no harm.
Employ someone who is not a professional, you no longer have those safeguards. No matter what monitoring has been added to the contract the commissioner is not omnipresent. Even if they were they would not be qualified in assessing whether that person was competent and had successfully completed their duties. Does the commissioner, judge, solicitor, doctor, nurse have access to the languages the ‘interpreter’ purports to know? Is someone unregistered really someone you can trust?
The only safeguard is simply to use a professional, one who is appropriately trained and registered. In the UK, where a framework agreement exists for interpreting that safeguard has been all but removed.