Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Jeremy Lynn

1. I am a barrister of 29 years call specialising in criminal law. As such I have regular occasion to use the services of interpreters during court hearings.

2. For the best part of my career the court has appointed an interpreter from an approved list. For the most part these interpreters were skilled linguists, fluent in English and another language. They were invariably well-trained and conversant with the vocabulary of the criminal courts; they knew what was required of them: where to stand, how to address the judge, to speak in the first person, etc.

3. In recent months the contract for the provision of court interpreters has passed into the hands of an agency, Applied Language Solutions. The quality of interpreting has declined dramatically as a consequence.

4. I have found that the interpreters employed by ALS have but one qualification: they can speak the same language as the defendant. Often their English is poor, sometimes barely comprehensible.

5. The interpreters employed by ALS typically have no experience or training as a professional interpreter. I have been told by more than one that she had “never done this before”.

6. I have witnessed myself the frustration of the defendant who can sense that what he is saying and what his counsel is saying is not being correctly translated.

7. I have had to stop the interpreter from continuing what has been a private conversation between herself and the defendant—interrupting to say to her, “Are you going to tell me what he said?”

8. I have seen the proceedings interrupted by an interpreter who entered the court whilst the judge was addressing the jury in an earlier case, has seated herself in counsels’ rows and then began a loud conversation with counsel. Despite being told to be quiet, she continued talking loudly, until the judge asked who she was and silenced her.

9. Only last week I attended court for a trial listed at 11 am. The defendant was in custody. I was unable to have a conference with him in the hour before the start of his trial because the interpreter failed to attend before 11. During an adjournment in the case the interpreter asked me what should she do. I told her to wait outside the courtroom and to listen for the tannoy. When the case was called on again, she was nowhere to be found. I discovered that she had left the building to buy a bar of chocolate. When I asked her name, she held up an identity card—signalling to me that she did not have any real confidence in communicating her name verbally.

10. I have found that the ALS appointed interpreters are unable to cope with the language of the court. Words such as “indictment”, “joint enterprise”, “conspiracy” and others that are the everyday fare of a criminal court leave this new breed of interpreter floundering.

11. I have myself already experienced cases being delayed through the failings of an interpreter. More serious is the obvious risk that defendants are having their words misconstrued or are failing to understand what is being said—with potentially disastrous consequences.

12. The sooner the Court Service reverts to the use of an approved list of trained interpreters the better.

13. A final ironic note: an interpreter asked me help her fill in the form that ALS had sent her. At the bottom it asked for her “signature” [sic].

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013