in outsourcing

Unqualified 'Signer' used in Court

It is generally accepted that interpreting provision for the courts has been rather less than efficient over the last three months. It has borne a frightening situation and now an alleged breach of the contract.
As courts have given up with alarming regularity and taken it upon themselves to book interpreters direct. Many of whom on the NRPSI refuse to do so as they understand that working directly for the courts would give the Ministry of Justice an impression all was well. Courts have begged and pleaded for the old system to come back to no avail. We still have a stand off. The three month review period was up at the end of last month yet no information has been released.
It is clear that the main contractor is struggling to fill bookings. Requests for interpreters are being farmed out to other agencies.
I’ve seen three different Sign Language agencies filling bookings either from the main contractor or direct from exasperated court staff. This is aside from the main preferred supplier for Sign Language Interpreting who it would seem does not even get sight of all the bookings as the system is so inefficient.
Firstly if you are a Sign Language Interpreter and you do not wish to work for the main contractor, i.e. ALS, then taking any booking from any agency or court is nevertheless helping them fulfil the contract. You can make an informed decision. If you accept solicitors assignments be warned. The judge may get you to interpret anyway. I’ve had three of these bookings and in all three I was expected by all involved to interpret for the court. Once they purposely booked me to interpret for the court even though the booking came via the defence counsel as the judge explained they could not source an interpreter any other way.
Secondly it is not only BSL agencies that bookings have been given to in an attempt to get anyone in there last minute. One spoken language agency accepted a Sign Language booking for court recently and put in someone with level 3 BSL (British Sign Language qualification equivalent of high school), no interpreter training and who therefore could not have been on the NRCPD register. The Deaf relay interpreter stated they had to look at the solicitor and lip read them to relay this to the client as they had no hope of getting the information from the ‘signer’ in court. I have decided not to name the level 3 signer who runs his own company for unregistered interpreters and clearly does not understand the risks of interpreting in court before competent to do so.
It is clear this is a large contract and one that the contractor can not fill alone. As a result we have this situation: not only is the MoJ not monitoring the contract, it would appear the contractor cannot even monitor itself. Standards have suffered. The risks of using unregistered Interpreters in court whilst the most vulnerable of Deaf people are the ones most likely to be in the system do not bear thinking about. There was a promise that only NRCPD registered interpreters would used in court. A contract clause which has now been breached. Was a level 3 in court the first time it has happened under this contract? Who knows. More importantly will it be the last?

  1. I am not really into naming and shaming although perhaps a letter to the person concerned with some information regarding contempt of court might be useful.
    I surmise that whilst interpreters and agencies continue to respond to direct bookings from the courts to fill in the gaps; there is little chance of the MOJ doing anything about the current FWA situation and justice really will not prevail for many victims and those suspected of commiting a crime.

  2. I agree with the decision made not to name and shame but surely the date and particulars of the case could be provided otherwise this could be another “hearsay” thing. I find it difficult if not impossible to believe that the Deaf interpreter would also compromise his/her ethics by “lipreading” which is not a skill that they have been trained and accredited for! So there is two causes for mistrial there. So the implied “justification” of the Deaf interpreter is, to me, wrong indeed as he/she could, by not compromising, call off the trial until a proper interpreter is engaged…

    • Hi Jeff,
      It wasn’t a trial but a directions hearing. It is a real story. If I publish dates someone will figure out the name of the interpreter…
      Also I have noticed in court it has become even harder to fight for standards as that usually means fighting with the judge. This is hard enough in English anyway. If you are a Relay and you have to do this via the provided ‘interpreter’ in the room, there really isn’t that much choice.
      For the sake of us all we need to ensure level 3’s signers are not working in courts. For the signer who thinks they are competent it comes down to one thing: fraud.

  3. more reasons why we should go for “interpreting hours” – a separate system that is designed for deaf clients.

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