Tag Archives: interpreting

SAVE THE CENTRE FOR DEAF STUDIES!

It has been a while. Let’s skip right past the part where I say I’m sorry for not posting for so long (I am) and promise to write up my experiences in Nepal and USA (I will, but in the meantime here’s a snippet from the Limping Chicken) and explain the delay is due to the worst jet lag I’ve ever had in my life and a residual malaise that I’ve found hard to shift (when you read the full write up, you’ll see why) and get right to why I’ve finally been moved to get back on my blog.

It has been an amazing week. It started with the CDS Ball in Bristol on Saturday, where I performed a poem, then went to Birmingham on Sunday for InteGreat Theatre’s big hurrah, where I performed a poem, then back to Bristol on Mon only to bounce back again on Weds for meeting and prep for Thursday’s Deaf Explorer Unconference where I was due to present a summary of my trip and perform a poem, then last but not least, BSL Pride day on Saturday where, with the madly talented Jason Sharpe, I was due to perform – you’ve guessed it – a poem.

The CDS Ball, though. Talk about bittersweet. Lovely to see everyone, and pay our respects to the Centre for Deaf Studies and celebrate the fact it’s been around for 35 years. If that sounds somewhat contradictory, it was. Yay, 35 years! Aw, this is the last year of undergraduates.

The CDS undergraduate programme was axed in 2010. This did not pass without comment. There were protests, local news coverage, letters, general outrage. All to no avail. This year will mark the last group of undergraduates to pass through the CDS. So the third years took it upon themselves to organise a Ball in honour of the CDS and all it represents, and I have to give them lots of kudos for rolling up their sleeves and organising it all, I can only imagine the stress. And on top of exams too! KUDOS. *bows*

It was at the M Shed no less, MC’d by Matt Jenkins and featuring a few special guests from the history of the CDS. It was surreal. Everyone was dressed in their finest, including myself, I’d picked out a black velvet jacket, a proper dress shirt, and borrowed some cufflinks from my father. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the stone in my ring matched my navy blue bowtie. Well you didn’t expect me to wear a dress, did you…?

We even managed to raise a few laughs for Gavin Lilley’s stand-up comedy and the slightly anarchic raffle (where I won a sweatshirt – go, me!) and the golden girls’ speeches – and I hope I don’t get lynched for calling them that, but it was inspiring to see them all on stage and equally depressing to know why we were all there.

Yes, depressing. The Centre for Deaf Studies scored a lot of firsts, from the first use of the term ‘Deaf Studies’, to the first textbook in BSL, which is still in use today; it was at the forefront of research into Deaf Studies, developing that unique field of sociological research, joining up with other areas of sociology, providing safe haven for deaf and hearing academics and students alike. They gathered a brilliant dedicated interpreting team and having a degree from the Uni of Bristol is / was a great start for any would-be terp or academic.

I myself have been a research subject; I was lucky enough to be part of Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence’s Metaphor in Creative Sign Language Project for several years, and I credit my involvement with this project for my development as a poet, both in skills and confidence. I had the opportunity to hang out with some great, talented BSL poets and help with poetry festivals and in return all I had to do was sign a few consent forms and allow Dr Sutton-Spence and her keen research fellows Dr Kaneko and Dr West to film my performances and the occasional informal discussion / interview so they could write papers to their hearts’ desire. For me, it was a fantastic deal. I owe the CDS a lot.

Not to mention the fun I’ve had helping with the interpreting student’s roleplays. As well as giving me a chance to flex my acting muscles, it was fun to see their reactions to the scenarios (given to me by the tutor, so don’t blame me) and also an interesting insight into what goes into a terp’s training. Everybody starts somewhere, including BSL terps. Bless. They’re so cute. I’m going to miss that.

And now tomorrow, there is a meeting. On the 5th July, 2013, it will be decided whether or not to completely and permanently shut down the CDS.

The University of Bristol is insane. It’s like they don’t know what they’re throwing away.

Help them see the light.

There’s still a day in which to send your strongest objections via email to:

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor, via his exec assistant:  jami.west@bristol.ac.uk

and

Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council: denis.burn@bristol.ac.uk and also via  Clerk to Council: hugh.martin@bristol.ac.uk

Advice from savedeafstudies.org.uk updates: http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/?p=468 

Tell them:

1.     we want the subsidy the Vice Chancellor announced in December – honour the promise!

2.     we want an independent review of the finances

3.     we want a proper impact assessment – the decision affects the Deaf community and the hearing community

Please write now!

For my part, this is what I have sent, with a tiny little bit borrowed from Dr Emery’s letter at the end:

For the attention of Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol, and Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council of same.

My name is Donna Williams (BA, MA) and I wish to register my surprise, dismay and extreme disappointment at the prospect that the Centre for Deaf Studies may be permanently and completely shut down. I hold degrees in Deaf Studies with Philosophy and Ethics and Social Philosophy, and it was my hope that one day I would be able to do a cross-departmental Phd between the Centre for Deaf Studies and the Centre for Ethics in Medicine, both of which are highly-renowned academic centres that the University of Bristol should be proud to own, and should, in my view, defend to the last.  The Centre for Deaf Studies has been at the forefront of exciting sociological research of the highest order, research that has contributed to changes in perception of sign language and deaf people. The work of the Centre for Deaf Studies over the last 35 years has been invaluable, both in terms of research and in terms of producing high-quality graduates with good prospects of employment, and the international regard in which it is held is well-deserved. Closing the Centre for Deaf Studies would be an act of academic vandalism.

I cannot believe that the University of Bristol would let such a valuable asset, one that it should proudly boast of, die. Furthermore, it is my understanding that a subsidy of £100,000 was offered in order to keep the CDS open, which was then withdrawn. This only serves to further my disbelief. Why has the University of Bristol not honoured this promise?

I urge the University of Bristol in the strongest possible terms to give a great deal of consideration to any decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies, including an impact assessment; decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies will affect the Deaf community and the wider hearing community as a whole. I also urge you to begin an independent review of the finances so that the Centre for Deaf Studies may demonstrate its financial worth as well as its academic worth.

I appeal to you to rethink your plans to close the Centre for Deaf Studies. Please commit to your original promise not to close the Centre and to offer a subsidy.  That would enable the Centre to focus on developing a top quality institution of research into sign language and Deaf culture, and sign language Interpreting.

It is not too late to put research into the rights of Deaf people ahead of the economics of the current ‘austerity’ climate. In the long term the University will be a great beneficiary.

Please don’t throw away a Centre for learning that is held in such high regard across the world. It should be possible to work out a solution with political will and commitment. If the University is prepared to give the Centre a long term plan, there is no doubt it can continue to be a pioneering Centre for Deaf studies related research.

Yours Sincerely,

Donna Williams, BA, MA

Get writing!

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Access to Justice, my foot.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

A while ago I blogged about the Ministry of Justice’s decision to give the entire court interpreting contract to a certain company called Applied Language Solutions. Applied are a ‘one-stop shop’ of the kind beloved by the Anonymous Interpreter. Things were not going well.

They’re still not going well.

They’re going so badly in fact, that the Commons Justice Select Committee and the National Audit Office have confirmed they may investigate Applied, and the Crown Prosecution Service have delayed signing up fully to the framework agreement under which Applied supply interpreters.

I wonder why things aren’t going well. Maybe we can ask Jajo the Rabbit or Alexander Orlov the KGB Meerkat, both of whom are registered Applied interpreters. Oh, wait.

It seems that their human companions put their details onto a registration form for Applied as an experiment, and both have been sent invitations to an assessment, and regular job updates, despite not yet having attended said assessments, or indeed provided any documentation proving their credentials.

I’m sure it’s OK, no doubt there’s someone out there who really needs their trial translated into fluent nose-twitching and carrot-nibbling. And apparently, despite the stories of these non-human terps going public, they’re still registered and still getting emails.

This stringent adherence to only recruiting the best, most qualified interpreters and quick reactions to potentially embarrassing problems may have something to do with Applied’s woes.

Or it could be that Applied keep sending the wrong interpreter for the language requested; Czech for Slovakian, Latvian for Lithuanian, Somali for Kurdish Sorani, etc.

Or it could be that they think multiple defendants only need one interpreter.

Or it could be that they think that all languages can be found within a 25 mile radius.

Or it could be that the interpreters keep turning up late.

Or it could be that their interpreters sometimes don’t turn up at all.

And the Ministry of Justice have said they are now going to monitor the situation. Wait. Weren’t they monitoring it before?

No.

It seems that Applied have been allowed to monitor their own performance and set their own performance indicators. As the MOJ said in the above article:

“The definitions of whether interpreters completed or not were decided by the company itself”

Under what circumstances does a contractor give a job to a sub-contractor, whilst saying:

“Here’s the money, and don’t forget to monitor your own performance so we don’t have to.”?

The irony here is that a google search for Paul Pindar (the CEO of Capita, the company that now owns Applied) throws up a link to an interview in the Independent, where he’s asked what the first thing he learned in business was. His response:

“One of the early ones was that if there’s an issue to be tackled then you should do it straight away. I’m a great believer that a small problem today becomes a big problem tomorrow. Fix challenges as soon as possible and then, hopefully, none of the problems will get out of control.”

That’s a lesson he would do well to pay attention to today.

Because amongst other horror stories at RPSI Linguist Lounge, there are several of court cases going ahead anyway, despite the lack of or incompetence of an interpreter.

Eventually some solicitor or barrister is going to check the Crown Prosecution Service’s legal guidance on having interpreters for defendants, which states:

“If a defendant requires an interpreter to interpret the proceedings, it is the responsibility of the court to arrange for the attendance and payment of an independent interpreter. See Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 section 19(3)(b) (Archbold 6-39). Where there is more than one defendant, each should have a separate interpreter.

A plea is uninformed if the defendant has not fully understood the nature of the case to which he is pleading because of his inadequate understanding of the language and because of the inadequate explanation given by his legal representative See Cuscani v UK (2002 All ER (D) 139 (Sep).”

I… I’ve just had a vision of the future! I can see… I can see the Court of Appeal, absolutely snowed under by all the appeals under ‘uninformed plea’ arguments. Long, expensive, unprofitable appeals. Small problems turning into big problems, anyone?

Truly, I am a prophet.

But to be fair, Capita (or ‘Crapita’ as they’re known to the Private Eye) are no stranger to problems, so even the deluge of appeals may not be enough to shake Applied and their backers.

Geoffrey Buckingham, the Chairman of the Association of Court and Police Interpreters, has written dozens of letters (some of which I’ve seen, and he presents a very good case – well, he would) to the Minister for Justice, to Capita, to Applied, to just about everyone and has campaigned against the MOJ contract, and earlier this month he delivered a damning speech about the situation for a ‘Training for the Future’ workshop in Helsinki, where he systematically pulled apart the MOJ’s and Applied’s mistakes. Read it, it’s a good speech. He finished by saying that if you don’t speak English, there will be no justice for you in the UK.

For my part, I understand English perfectly. I just don’t always understand it very well when it’s spoken at me, especially across an echoey court from 20 feet away. One of these days, someone might push me too far with daft questions about whether I can drive or whether I can read, and I’m going to give them a slap.

I almost certainly won’t understand my rights when they’re read to me as I’m arrested, which in itself was enough for a case against a deaf man to be thrown out a few months ago. Imagine I get dragged into a court. Most decent interpreters, and this includes Sign Language interpreters, won’t touch Applied with a bargepole. Most likely, I’ll end up with a ‘CSW’ with basic level one BSL. Will I understand the slightest thing? Unlikely.

Justice served? It won’t matter. If I’m found not guilty or the case is dismissed due to crap interpreting, I’ll skip away scot-free while blogging about the uselessness of the interpreter.

If I’m found guilty, I’ll just appeal on the grounds of the useless interpreter, then claim compensation. It’s win-win.

Now think of all the defendants that have been let down by Applied, which according to their own figures runs into the thousands. How many solicitors will start to think along the same lines?

Someone better tell the Court of Appeal to get ready.

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.