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Parliament, Capita and the decline in standards of BSL Interpreting in Courts

The transcripts are all out for the three parliamentary hearings: the first by the Justice Select Committee (JSC), the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), then the second JSC hearing. They follow the National Audit Office’s report.
What do we know now? Not much is new if you have been following the contract since January. What we have seen throughout the hearings is ministers and other government personnel attempting to defend their actions or lack of them. We also saw Gavin Wheeldon (ex-owner of ALS) still accusing interpreters of intimidation. Funny seeing how in reality it was the other way round, attempting to bully interpreters into less than the minimum wage. His legal team also threatened this blog with legal action. The government are still defending the contract even though the hearings clearly expose a lack of due diligence in awarding the contract, ignorance of a basic knowledge of interpreting including procedures that should have been in place for vetting and assessments and a complete lack of monitoring. This includes not allowing court staff to give the hearing figures they know will highlight delays, wasted costs and a failing of this contract.
There seems to be some allowance for what is now Capita Interpreting and Translation to get their act together although the boycott is a strong as ever. It is not clear how they will fulfil the contract when they check everyone registered with them has qualifications, as directed, and they have none.
The Capita machine rumbles on. They have bought Reliance who provide interpreters to Sussex Police. With these types of investments it looks like Capita will not be backing out of this contract even if it costs them to fix what, perhaps, they did not know was wrong. They have their fingers in the interpreting industry pie and are too big to get burnt. The share price even went down recently due to suspected lower profit margins in the public sector. Capita report they will still have an ‘organic’ 3% increase in profits this year.
What do we know about BSL interpreting under the contract? More interpreters have been on court training, more are being approached to work in courts regardless of level of experience outside of courts. Another two agencies are putting out court bookings who have never done so before. It used to be the case that generally the safest and best interpreters worked in courts. Now it is anyone registered (and some who aren’t). Deaf professionals who work in and outside of court report a denigration of standards and witnessing interpreters who do not know how to make the language accessible for some of their clients, especially the more vulnerable or people with minimal or idiosyncratic use of sign language. Some interpreters are still working for the contract and hang on doggedly to the argument that it is better to have some experienced people in court and show the government how it is done. That would either be naivety or self interest. The government is not interested and neither are the companies it outsources too. It takes voting with your feet. It has been said on this blog before: if BSL interpreters had boycotted this contract it would have failed within weeks.
In the meantime the contract is not going away so there should be some following of some unwritten rules (and some written ones):
Do not accept court work until you have been registered for three years and you are willing to pay for shadowing and mentoring in order to be safe.
Do not do police work before you have six months worth of experience in court. It all starts at the police station and if you make mistakes there you risk the whole case and thousands of pounds of tax payers’ money.
Do not accept work for which you are not capable of doing (regardless of whether you think you have because you have been on a two day training course. This only gives you knowledge and not necessarily the skills or experience to work in courts).
Ask your colleagues to monitor you and give you feedback. There should be a rule in court that every interpreter, for solicitor, barrister or court, monitors the working interpreter and flags up errors. I have had many conversations with experienced court interpreters who note that the role of the solicitor or barrister’s interpreter is misunderstood. You need to be good enough to monitor the court interpreter and confident enough to flag up those errors following the protocols of a court room. Even the court interpreting team should be monitoring each other, feeding each other and discussing their interpreting in breaks. This is especially true during evidence where you should be monitoring the way questions are interpreted as well as the response and how it is interpreted back into English. If you are not willing to accept feedback and enter into open discussions about your work, you should not be anywhere near a courtroom. Even if you have been working for courts for a while.
If you see an interpreter working in courts who does not have the appropriate skill level, whether you are a professional attending court, a Deaf person involved in the court process or another interpreter please inform them of your observations. If you need to, put in a complaint to the NRCPD. Interpreters who decide to work in courts should do so on the understanding that being subjected to a complaint is a reality. Not enough people are complaining about interpreters as they feel it breaks confidentiality. It does not. The complaint stays with the panel and those who already know the details of the situation. It is about time we all signed up to a certain level of transparency.
Lastly, read through the hearing transcripts. Do you really want to work in courts and be associated with this mess? Do you want to be responsible for a Deaf client not receiving access to justice? Or will you insist you are fine to work in a court and be like the interpreter who cost a 63 year old man £10k? Not only do you have your reputation at stake but the knowledge you are contributing to a wider continuation of a decline in interpreting standards and our terms and conditions.

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