Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Irina Jefremova

1. I, Irina Jefremova BA DPSI MCIL, am a professional public service interpreter in both Lithuanian and Russian. The following are my personal observations made on five occasions during the first few months subsequent to the commencement of the Framework Agreement. Since July 2012, I have no longer been attending courts for the purpose of making further observations.

2. These observations can briefly be summarised as:

14 February 2012: Non-attendance of ALS Interpreter. Hearing proceeded with defendant’s wife acting as interpreter.

30 March 2012: Poor Quality/Inexperienced Interpreter. Lack of interpretation. Complaints from defendant’s acquaintance.

30 March 2012: Lateness. Poor Quality/Inexperienced Interpreter. Complaints from public gallery.

4 April 2012: Unprofessional conduct. Lack of interpretation.

5 April 2012: No interpreter available for four days. Use of non-ALS agency. Poor Quality/Inexperienced/Unqualified Interpreter. Mistranslation of sentence.

11 July 2012: Non-attendance of interpreter. Hearing postponed.

3. Tuesday 14 February, Birmingham Magistrates’ Court

4. Lithuanian defendant charged with motoring offences. ALS interpreter had been booked, but after three hours still had not attended. Hearing proceeded with defendant’s wife interpreting the adjournment of the case and the conditions of Bail.

5 Friday 30 March 2012, Birmingham Crown Court

6. Court 1, HH Judge Creed, Pre-trial review. Case number: T20117209. Punjabi Interpreter required.

7. An ALS linguist arrives and states he will be interpreting into Urdu, although the case is listed as requiring a Punjabi interpreter. The interpreter demonstrated a very poor comprehension of the judge’s directions and court procedures, but eventually the session begins. However, only a very limited subset of the proceedings appeared to be translated for the defendant, with the interpreter barely uttering a sentence every five to ten minutes. The client repeatedly turned to her fellow defendants to attempt to gain an understanding of the proceedings.

8 After the session, I was approached by a friend of the defendant. He told me that the defendant did not speak much Urdu, and that the ALS interpreter himself had made it clear to them from the beginning that he was unable to interpret at the same time as others were speaking (ie simultaneous interpreting).

9. Friday 30 March 2012, Birmingham Crown Court

10. Court 10, HH JUDGE BURBIDGE QC, For Sentence. Case: T20117222 (Vietnamese Interpreter Required).

11. The ALS interpreter arrived one hour late and struggled to repeat the affirmation. The judge raised his eyebrows a couple of times, but decided to proceed nevertheless.

12. In the public gallery, I sat next to two Vietnamese ladies. As soon as the case started and the ALS linguist (he introduced himself as Vin Chan) started his interpreting, their faces turned very emotional—the ladies’ eyes widened with surprise, they vigorously shook their heads on many occasions, hid their faces in their hands, and even giggled amongst themselves a few times. They were asked to keep quiet. I scribbled on the paper “Is he good?”, pointing at the ALS linguist in the dock—they vigorously shook their heads.

13. The hearing lasted for an hour, and as soon as it was finished, the two Vietnamese ladies rushed to the defence counsel. I overheard them say that the Vietnamese interpreter was a complete joke and should have never been allowed to work in courts. According to them, not only did he translate all the basic dates and names wrong, he misinterpreted much of what was said. The ladies were convinced that the Vietnamese defendant had no chance of fully understanding the sentencing guidelines that were discussed, the explanation behind his imprisonment, or any other aspects of his future (including being on the sex offender register, the Home Office’s involvement, etc). They insisted on a re-sentencing hearing, and the barrister confirmed that she would appeal.

14 Wednesday 4 April 2012, Norwich Crown Court. Lithuanian interpreter required

15. A Lithuanian ALS linguist, Mr D. L., who is not on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters and who does not profess to hold any language-related qualifications whatsoever, arrived at Norwich Crown Court to interpret for a preliminary hearing. However, throughout the hearing the ALS linguist concentrated on actively discussing the case with the defendant over the videolink, instead of interpreting for her. He also complained to the court that, apparently, he is severely underpaid and would only receive £20 for this job—even though he had travelled from Harrogate (366 miles for a return journey).

16 Thursday 5 April 2012, Birmingham Magistrates Court. Lithuanian interpreter required

17. I received a call at midday from Absolute Interpreting & Translation Services, a Birmingham-based interpreting agency, begging me to attend Birmingham Magistrates Court “any time at all today, they’re prepared to wait, and at any cost”. I declined the job, but went to Birmingham MC to observe the case (1101072954, court 8) instead.

18. The court had been trying to book a Lithuanian interpreter for the defendant through ALS every day since Monday (the defendant was remanded on Sunday), and although ALS said they do not have a Lithuanian interpreter based in the West Midlands, they would still keep trying to get one. Today, being the fourth day in the row, the judge was extremely displeased—he ordered the court staff not to find an interpreter through any other route.

19. Eventually, an interpreter was sent from Absolute. Shabbily dressed, the “interpreter” made no secret of his lack of interpreting qualifications, or the fact that he had never worked in a court before. I observed the hearing and was shocked by how many things went wrong. The “interpreter” had to be reminded to get up during his oath taking. With regards to his interpreting, every time there was a legal term, he would say “excuse me, speak louder please” or “sorry, I can’t hear you” and would render the repeated sentence into Lithuanian as “I did ask them to repeat, but I still don’t understand what they’re saying”. The sentence of “six weeks in prison reduced to four weeks and credit given for the 3 days spent in custody” was interpreted as “six weeks and four weeks and three more days in custody”. No wonder the defendant looked very confused, and twice asked the judge to repeat the sentence. All three times he received the same rendering.

20. Wednesday 11 July 2012, Birmingham Crown Court. Lithuanian interpreter required

21. Attending to observe the trial of Tomas Zaunieravicius at 10am (T20120329), I was stopped by an usher and questioned as to whether I was the Lithuanian Interpreter they had booked through ALS. At this point the interpreter was yet to attend, and calls for the Lithuanian interpreter could be heard over the public address system at 10:30am and 11:00am. I left the court at 12:00am, with the case now listed as “To Be Heard” and no sign of the interpreter.

September 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013