in MoJ

Inequality before the Law? It’s Reality

A Sign Language Interpreter has submitted, anonymously, this story for you all to read. Comment is made afterwards:
‘An interpreter was warned to attend court c/o ALS and its preferred supplier of Sign Language Interpreters.  The interpreter had little experience of court work generally and no knowledge of the defendant, no knowledge of the indictment and no knowledge of the type or stage in proceedings.  The booking had been made a mere two days earlier by the agency’s assessment that it was ‘straight forward, quick and well within the interpreters’ capability’.
The interpreter had been informed that a relay interpreter would attend also to facilitate communications.  They did not know the relay interpreter, had never worked with them before and actually had no idea why in fact a relay interpreter was required for the case…
The relay interpreter arrived not only late but also dressed most inappropriately for a court case.  They too had no idea of the indictment, defendant, stage of proceedings etc.  The relay interpreter immediately declared that they had never worked in a court before.  The defence lawyer had immediate and very serious concerns about the communication provision for their client.  Representations were made immediately to the court.  Meanwhile, as it is a small community, it was quickly discovered that the relay interpreter had a fairly substantial court career with a number of both recent and historic criminal convictions – with even further cases pending!
The relay interpreter admitted, to the hearing interpreter, that there were many reasons why they must not and should not work in court or other legal settings.  The relay interpreter stated it had ‘been a mistake’ to accept the job from the agency, but that no CRB clearance had been requested and no proof of experience had been required.  The relay interpreter, instead of reporting to the usher, decided to leave the building with no explanation to the court whatsoever.
The hearing interpreter entered the courtroom and explained to the judge that they had no choice but to withdraw from the assignment.  The withdrawal was put on the following grounds that: 1. they had been falsely warned to the assignment; 2. they were unable to function effectively alone; 3. they would not be able to perform the task satisfactorily unto the language need and complexity of the case and 4. that it would put justice in too greater jeopardy.  The interpreter further disclosed to the court the full details of the concerns pertaining to the equally inappropriate and dangerous relay interpreter.
The judge thanked the interpreter for their honesty and integrity.   They made a note of the necessary details to be referred to the court presiders regarding the enormous danger that the defendant had faced unto ALS and its’ preferred supplier.’

Some extrapolation from the above:
– Readers of this blog, be it sign language interpreters or users of services, may not fully understand the reality of outsourcing and the resulting situation we are faced with. This is an additional, and altogether more serious, example to the ones on the previous post.
– Many booking co-ordinators, especially ones at less than reputable agencies, can not necessarily be relied upon to have specialist knowledge.
– Interpreters should accept assignments for which they are prepared, skilled, ready… As the interpreter, the buck stops with you.

– Court or Police work is not glamourous and does not afford an interpreter extra status or kudos. Your work could be held up to account, may be examined by an expert witness, investigated by defence teams and you could find yourself in a situation where you are being called as a witness.
– It is highly likely that a three hour training course will not be sufficient to ensure you are fully competent to work in a court. Even if it contains in the title the word ‘Masterclass’. Try some shadowing first. And a mentor. Or better still don’t work for the company that everyone loves, with good reason, to hate.
If you are witness to anything, wish to write a guest blog post or wish to send something in for further comment please email to
A big thank you to our anonymous poster.

  1. It happens here in America too. I had a RID Level 5-certified interpreter (which is the best you can get here in the U.S.) and she misunderstood me. I said I did not mind, she misinterpreted, “I did not care.” Very harsh words… and I lost because of the interpreter. That is what happens when the language structure of ASL deviates too far from English, there will be more room for mistakes. I am aware BSL is not structurally similar as English too.

  2. To respond to the comment re training… a Masterclass is where an experienced professional passes on to inexperienced colleagues a snapshot of what working in a particular domain looks like. It should aim to provide colleagues who are contemplating moving into a specific area enough information to help them decide whether or not to pursue that direction. It should never be seen as some kind of superior training. In terms of those deciding to continue on a path into a specialism such as Legal interpreting, they should always undertake as much observation as possible, engage the support of a mentor who has considerable legal experience and where available undertake any training that is relevant to that domain… A level Law is a good place to start. Traditionally interpreters have moved into the Legal domain via the Magistrates courts, where matters, that could be ‘safe’ to undertake as first steps following the observation/training stage, will be heard. However one must pick ones jobs very carefully, for example, a PCMH, (Plea and Case Management Hearing) is not evidential so may be a good place to start, but a half day hearing for assault would probably not be appropriate for a legal novice and should never be worked alone.

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