Am I entitled to have an interpreter at Court and what will it cost?
The Court should provide and pay for interpretation services in the following instances:
- Where one or more of the parties is deaf or hard of hearing (this includes provision of BSL interpreters or other language service professionals that are reasonably requested such as lip speakers);
- Where one or more of the parties requests to speak in Welsh under the Welsh Language Act 1993;
- Where one or more of the parties cannot understand or speak English in proceedings which could lead to imprisonment;
- Where one or more of the parties cannot understand or speak English in proceedings relating to domestic violence;
- Where one or more of the parties cannot understand or speak English in proceedings relating to children;
- Where one or more of the parties cannot understand or speak English in proceedings, cannot obtain legal funding and cannot provide an interpreter or suitable person.
If you require an interpreter in cases that do not fall into the above category you may have to pay for an interpreter. You should contact the court or legal representative to discuss your requirements in such instances.
How qualified are court provided interpreters?
Interpreting services are provided to the courts in England and Wales through a contract with Capita Translation & Interpreting.
According to the National Agreement for the use of Interpreters, spoken language professionals should be registered with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) at full or interim level, BSL interpreters and language service professionals should be fully registered with CACDP.
Capita provide 3 tiers of interpreter. Tier 1 interpreters are the most experienced. According to a report by the National Audit Office only 48% of bookings are fulfilled by a tier 1 interpreter and 10% are fulfilled by tier 3 interpreters.
An audit by the Ministry of Justice in December 2013 indicated that 96% of the interpreters checked had the required qualifications to provide services under the contract. This was up from 73% in 2012.
What happens if my interpreter does not turn up?
The target set for Capita to fulfil bookings is 98%. Since the contract was implemented in 2012 this target has not been reached with the most recent figures indicating fulfilment at between 94% and 95%.
In practice, if a hearing cannot go ahead due to the absence of an interpreter the hearing will be relisted for another date. This means that the parties and the court incur unnecessary costs and delay.
Whist the Court has the power to file wasted costs orders against Capita only 11 such orders have been made totalling £7,229.
The Law Society Gazette recently reported an incident whereby a Judge asked a barrister to trawl the streets to find a Chinese interpreter after an interpreter was not provided for a second hearing. This is perhaps an extreme example of the frustrations caused by inadequate interpreting services but illustrates how the service still has significant room for improvement.
The provision of qualified and experienced interpreters is essential in court proceedings particularly where someone’s liberty, family life or safety is at risk. Whilst the statistics are moving in the right direction more needs to be done to ensure that qualified interpreters are available for hearings.