Tag Archives: interpreters

What will it take? How about a collapsed trial?

I had originally planned to make my next blog post all about my impressions of America from a deaf perspective, but events have overtaken me somewhat. Whilst I faithfully promise to tell all about being a deaf tourist in the most deaf-aware country I have ever visited at some point, today I want to talk about the latest hoo-ha surrounding the Ministry of Justice’s wonderful new scheme for court interpreters.

Just to give some background, the system for finding an interpreter for court used to be that someone would contact some qualified interpreters from a national register who had usually also undertaken further training for legal interpreting and ask them if they were available. If they were, said interpreter would be paid a flat fee of £85, a quarter-hourly rate after three hours, and were paid for travel time and expenses.

Maybe this old system wasn’t perfect, but even the judges accepted that it worked. The problem? It was expensive. Enter Applied Language Solutions, who bid for, and remarkably, won the entire interpreting contract for the Ministry of Justice in a deal designed to save £18 million.

(Edit: I will henceforth refer to Applied Language Solutions as ‘Applied’, apologies to Accredited Language Services of New York, for inadvertently messing all over their trademark ALS for the first 12 hours this post was live. Oops. For the record, they have nothing to do with this. On with the motley!)

What did Applied do to achieve this target? They slashed interpreters’ fees to a three-tier system of hourly fees of £16, £20 and £22 with no travel payments and reduced expenses for what is, let’s face it, a very tough job. Then they wondered why nobody wanted to work for them. Indeed, the whole business with Applied has sparked protests and a campaign against them that even Unite has joined.

I first commented on this in a blog post entitled British Special Language, where I mocked a couple of large ‘one stop shop’ interpreting firms for their lack of knowledge of those they were serving, lamented the new court interpreting contract, and hoped they would sort out the mess soon.

Two months later, what’s happened? After weeks of adjournments and delays caused by no-shows or poor interpreting by those willing to take Applied’s fees, a trial has actually collapsed thanks to an interpreter supplied by Applied. It’s going to cost £25,000. Now that’s an expensive interpreter.

For me, it’s not so much that the interpreter made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. And phonetically, there’s not much difference between ‘beaten’ and ‘bitten’. No, it’s that the interpreter then admitted to the court that they had realised their mistake, but had said nothing.

They realised they had misunderstood, and interpreted something wrongly, but did nothing about it. The mistake was only discovered when the prosecution cross-examined the defendant. The judge had to order a retrial.

That has to be one of the clearest ethical breaches in interpreting that I have ever heard of. Quite apart from anything else, an interpreter in court has to swear that:

“I swear (or… promise) by Almighty God (or other god recognised by his or her religion) that I will well and truly interpret the evidence that will be given and do all other matters and things that are required of me in this case to the best of my ability.” (Evidence Act 2008, Schedule 1)

Applied seem to be employing interpreters for court who are apparently completely ignorant of “contempt of court”. For clarification, it’s:

Contempt of court is essentially where somebody is deemed to have interfered with the administration of justice. This may take several forms but each of them will result in justice itself not being properly carried out. It is for this reason that contempt of court is seen as such a serious offence and which results in possible prison sentences.”

So tell me, what does an interpreter have to do to be arrested around here? How about break an oath and cause a trial to collapse?

And what about contempt proceedings against Applied for employing hopeless interpreters? Apparently, thats not going to happen.

The Attorney General has said that Applied cannot be done for contempt, but there may be provision under the ‘wasted costs’ orders. £25,000 for a new trial seems like a wasted cost to me. And apparently, it may be possible for defendants who have had to stay in custody thanks to Applied to pursue civil claims against them. In fact, one solicitor says he has two cases where they are “discussing” pursuing false imprisonment against Applied. Dear, oh dear.

RPSI linguist lounge, a not-for-profit website run by registered public service interpreters (RPSIs) for registered public service interpreters, is awash with horror stories about Applied. The Anonymous Interpreter tells how the new system is probably saving money, but not by any ethical means.

And yet, Applied seem to be clinging on. I wonder for how much longer, and what it will take?

We’re approaching the end of April, and apparently, the Framework Agreements under which Applied has its contract will be up for review. In honour of this, RPSI have organised a demonstration on Monday 16th April outside the offices of the Ministry of Justice and the Houses of Parliament.

I’ll be following what the Ministry of Justice chooses to do about this shambles with interest, and so, I suspect, will many others.

Interpreters, whether they be for spoken or sign languages, deserve better than this. So do our courts, and the people who have to find their way through them.

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Shit people say… to Sign Language Interpreters

In the midst of my preparations for – or rather avoiding my preparations for – Signing Hands Across the Water, I’ve been collecting some information for this post for a little while now.

When my ‘shit hearing people say… to deaf people’ blog became a surprise hit, I pondered on other possible themes for the meme (ooh, poetry, and I wasn’t even trying) and a chance comment by a Sign Language Interpreter made me think… what DO people say to Sign Language Interpreters?

So I asked a few terps, all of whom shall remain anonymous, and wow. Seriously, wow. I’m assured that most people are not like this, but as the saying goes, there’s always one…

“How long did it take you to learn Braille?”
It’s depressing and fascinating how many terps gave an example linked to Braille, from “do you speak Braille?” to “I’ve always wanted to learn Braille.” What is this obsession with Braille???

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert silly word that is usually easy to interpret*
Grow up.

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert rude word that then gets a laugh – at terp*
No, really, grow up.

“Who do I look at, you or them?”
Sigh.

“Oh no, don’t interpret that!”… the answer is usually “I just did.”
Sign Language Interpreters usually interpret simultaneously. You cannot call things back. And also – Booyah!

“They look a bit angry don’t they?” (Of someone who is just signing)
Do they look angry? Does their face look angry? Believe me, you’ll KNOW when they’re angry.

“Are you the signer?”
Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the sign lady?”
No, they’re the Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the madam interpreter?”
They’re not a dominatrix! Notice the lack of studded whips and fluffy handcuffs. They’re a SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the sign gesture person?”
Nearly, but not quite. It’s SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the hand waver?”
Oh, for the love of…

“Excuse me, do you mind not interpreting this? This is a private conversation.” (while on the phone and speaking loudly enough to hear)
Excuse you, if the deaf person was hearing, they’d hear your little tiff with your soon-to-be-ex, just like every other hearing person in the vicinity, in fact I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a few people are listening. Why shouldn’t the deaf person have the same access to this salacious gossip? Now leave the poor terp alone.

*When asked for more prep (since they had hardly provided any at all)*
“Oh, why? You’re not going to be miming that as well, are you?”
Words fail me. Or should I say mimes…?

“Oh, you work with deaf people? Oh, that’s so nice / wonderful / kind of you.”
Yeah…

“Hi, we need an interpreter, we have someone who is hearing-challenged…”
Deaf. I’m deaf.

“Oh, I used to know someone who was stone deaf.”
And your point is?

“Where’s the interrupter?”
We’ve gone over this.

“Oh how terrible it must be to be deaf… but I’d rather be deaf than blind.”
That remark would be random at the best of times.

“Do they always use hand signals?”
No, sometimes we use flashing lights, vibrations and touch. Or sometimes we use the medium of dance. Get down, baby!

Speaking of dance…

“Did you train at a dance school?”
Look, it was a sarcastic comment, OK? We don’t really communicate in dance. Except under special circumstances involving nightclubs and hot non-signing people.

“If you lose your job, you can become a tictac man!” *laughs*
I actually had to have this one explained to me; apparently at the horse races, the guys taking bets can communicate odds at some distance with special hand signals to each other. Oh, I see. Ha ha ha.

“If you lose your job, you can get a job as a plane marshal! You know, the ones with the orange flags?” *laughs*
Ha, bloody ha.

“Can I get one like you?”
Get one what? Can you clarify exactly what you mean, before someone calls the police?

“That must be almost as difficult as doing foreign language interpreting.”
Erm, simultaneously interpreting from one language to another, something that’s usually only attempted at the UN, and Sign Language Interpreters do it every day… Almost as difficult, yeah.

“How brave that poor deaf person is.”
I know. Just this morning, I rescued a hamster from a house fire.

“How long have they been suffering from deafness?”
OK, that’s enough, I think I’ve seen enough now.

Or have I? If you’re a Sign Language Interpreter, for your sins, and you have some strange / weird / just plain stupid thing some random person has said to you about interpreting that I’ve missed, don’t keep it to yourself. Get it off your chest in the comments below!

You never know, as well as giving us all a good laugh, we might make a few people think. But let’s do it for the laugh 🙂

British Special Language?

British… Special… Language.

This is what Language Empire apparently thought BSL stood for. The average layman in the street might not know that BSL means British Sign Language, and this is a very sad thing. But Language Empire is a professional organisation that provides interpreters for a whole host of languages, including BSL.

British Special Language. They’ve replaced that with British Sign Language on the page now, so someone must have brought it to their attention, but they seem to have forgotten about the URL.

http://www.language-empire.com/services-british-special-language.php

It gets better – according to the logos that they proudly display on their front page, Language Empire has contracts with the JobCentre, ATOS, DWP, Community Legal Service, NHS, Tribunals Service, BUPA, Metropolitan Police, etc. You’d think with such a multitude of lucrative contracts, they could make the effort to learn what a simple acronym stands for.

It gets even better. Look again at that page. What the hell are those hands doing? That’s not the BSL alphabet. That’s taking the piss.

Also:
“BSL and other special disability communication professionals”
Beg pardon? What are you talking about?

“Language-Empire provides British Sign Language & Special Disability Interpreters”
Uh… I hope you mean fully trained, NRCPD accredited BSL interpreters. 

“Language Empire will only hire BSL and special disability interpreters approved by the `National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People.”
Oh, you do. Well, thank goodness for that. For a moment there I thought you were a bunch of amateurs who decided to include BSL in your language interpreting portfolio because you heard you could make money.

But I wish they’d stop calling interpreters, note-takers, lipspeakers, STTRs and deafblind interpreters “special disability interpreters”, it’s making me twitch. I mean, what does that even mean? I’ve never seen ‘special disability interpreters’ advertised anywhere else, ever. How did they get so many contracts to provide BSL interpreters?

The same question could be asked of ALS, which on their page for British Sign Language Interpreting Services, (kudos to them btw for getting that right, and how sad it is that I’m applauding such a simple thing) though it appears a little more well-informed than Language Empire’s page, makes a reference to ‘St Vincent’s variety’ of BSL. What? Some discussion amongst deafies on twitter seems to suggest that St Vincent’s is a deaf school, which if true, then you might as well name every variation of BSL that comes out of any deaf school, i.e. ‘Mary Hare variety’. But I wouldn’t recommend doing that, not unless you want to start something.

Anyway. Lip-speakers are not a variety of sign language interpreting, nor are written translation services. That said, despite a couple of slips here and there, the ALS page comes off a lot better, and certainly not as howling as ‘British Special Language’.

But I will say this – “For meetings and events longer than 2 hours at least two interpreters are necessary.”
Er, if you make a BSL interpreter interpret on their own for two hours solid, they’ll have a brain meltdown. Believe me, I know. I saw it happen once when one half of a pair didn’t turn up, and after two hours the poor thing was a mess. The cut-off point that I’ve been told is an hour, max. Anything more is cruel. Don’t make me report you to the RSPC… I mean ASLI.

No, the problem with ALS seems to be a distinct lack of popularity. With… well, everyone. Despite reported issues going back to last year:
Row erupts over police interpreters – Feb 2011
Police rip up contract with interpreter agency – Mar 2011
Ministry of Justice in line of fire over interpreters contract – Jul 2011

ALS somehow landed a contract in August 2011 to supply interpreters for the criminal justice system in England and Wales, starting a few weeks ago. The entire system. For dozens of languages. The idea apparently being “if we give all our money to one organisation, it won’t cost as much”. Right.

Here’s how things are going so far:
Courts given green light to hire own interpreters as ALS struggles to cope
Court chaos follows interpreter change
Lawyers slam government’s court interpreting system
Ministry of Justice admits ‘teething problems’ with interpreting system

And of course, for every screw-up, that’s more money that it costs to fix it, and trials aren’t cheap. That’s why you pay for a service in the first place; to try and get it right first time. Pay less, get less. Spend more fixing it. And what happens to the defendants in the meantime? I hope they can clean up this mess, somehow, and soon.

How have we come to this? Big super-massive spoken language agencies whoring, I mean hiring out BSL interpreters? Three words; one stop shopping. Here’s what the Anonymous Interpreter thinks of that: Words that strike fear into the heart of the Sign Language Interpreter.

Furthermore, the LinguistLounge, which appears to be part of ALS, or Applied Language Solutions, proudly has a video that explains the provision of BSL interpreting services for the Ministry of Justice contract.

It doesn’t have subtitles. Or BSL interpretation. *Buzzzzz*

They do helpfully provide a script, and it’s full of vim and vigour and go get ‘em attitude, which I’m having a hard time equating with the slating they’re getting.

All I know is, if I need a BSL interpreter in a new area, my first stop is the ASLI directory. At least they know what BSL stands for.