Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from the University Council of Modern Languages

1. The University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) welcomes the announcement that there is to be a wide-ranging inquiry into the current arrangements for the provision of police and court interpreting and translation services. Although only limited consultation with the Teaching and Interpreting (T&I) constituency in the UK HE sector has been possible in the time available, the message that the current arrangements are having a negative impact on professional interpreters and the quality of service for many service users could not be clearer.

2. UCML is of the view that the Ministry of Justice has been unwise to have instituted a process which undervalues professional interpreters and translators, and which serves as a disincentive to would-be professionals. Consequently, UCML wholeheartedly supports the move to undertake an inquiry into a situation that has caused such high levels of dissatisfaction among key stakeholders.

3. Although moves to centralise services in organisational terms are understandable, provision that frequently leads to the by-passing of a system set up to ensure that appropriately qualified and experienced interpreters are available to the justice system (the National Register of Public Service Interpreters) is considered hugely regrettable; a tiered system of interpreting provision1 (such as the one provided by the current contract holder) is not considered by university-level training establishments to guarantee the level of quality and rigour these contexts demand, and sends a mixed message to students about the importance of high-level training. As a result, university departments that offer training in interpreting and translation are finding it increasingly difficult to present a clear and coherent message about employability, professional status, pay and working conditions.

4. Graduates of university courses are reporting back to institutions on the difficulty in accessing work when they have the required qualifications for membership of the NRPSI and the expense they would need to occur to undertake an additional assessment to be taken onto the books of the contract holder. The expense of high-level language training and specialist add-on CPD (inter alia the Diploma in Public Sector Interpreting or DPSI offered by the Chartered Institute of Linguists) with no guarantee of a decent living wage in return for the investment again makes it difficult for career departments and lecturers to promote the field as a viable career option, and this despite the pay scales for interpreting that were negotiated some years ago.

5. Graduates of courses also report back on experiences in the field at which NRPSI-qualified interpreters have had to work alongside untrained interpreters in high-level court work, situations that have also been widely reported in the press. In the North West, for example, universities are informed by graduates who are members inter alia of the PIA (Professional Interpreters’ Alliance),2 which has been gathering news reports on issues arising from the current contract arrangements.

6. In addition, the work of the HEFCE-funded National Network for Interpreting project has been promoting Heritage languages and careers in public service and conference interpreting as a means to bolster interest in language study and careers beyond A Level. This message has been diluted by the current service arrangements as it is difficult to provide evidence of decent pay for high level and complex interpreting work and to highlight the value and importance of languages that may often be spoken in the home rather than studied in mainstream educational contexts.

7. It is important to highlight recent FCO concerns3 regarding the need for investment in high-level language skills to support work at an international level, a situation which UCML believes is further compounded by the current service provision arrangements in which high level language skills are being seriously undervalued.

8. The translation and interpreting fields in higher education across the world and not least in the UK have worked in tandem with professional bodies for over twenty years to enhance training provision and promote professional services as the means to ensure justice is served in situations where participants do not sufficiently master the language of the legal system they are dealing with. The current service arrangements serve, in the view of UCML, as a regressive rather than a progressive force and UCML has serious concerns both for those involved in the justice system and for the reputation and professional status of language experts and training institutions if the current arrangements are allowed to continue in their current form.

9. UCML is the overarching national organisation which represents the interests of modern languages, linguistics and cultural and area studies in higher education throughout the United Kingdom. Virtually all departments and professional associations are UCML members. UCML members provide all the specialist and non-specialist language training in UK universities, and play a significant role in training and research in translation and interpreting for the public services.

September 2012

1 http://www.appliedlanguage.com/interpreting/legal-and-court-interpreting/

2 http://professionalinterpretersalliance.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/MoJ%20outsourcing

3 http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?id=790974382&view=Speech

Prepared 5th February 2013