Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Dennings LLP

A Health Warning

Some of the dates I shall be identifying are approximate but should serve and more to identify the issues and to demonstrate the relevant patterns.

A Further Health Warning

Remembering the precise names of some of the Governmental bodies and quasi-Governmental bodies concerned is sometimes going to be a challenge after all the years but I shall do my best.

Iqbal Begum {R. v. Iqbal Begum; Court of Appeal: 22 April 1985 {1991} 93 Cr. App. R. 96}

In this case heard at first instance at the Crown Court in Birmingham before Leonard, J, on 5 October 1981 the Court of Appeal on 22 April 1985 found that the Appellant’s trial had been a nullity in that the interpreter engaged by the defence had been far from competent in the Appellant’s languages and accordingly that her purported plea of “Guilty” to her husband’s murder had not been a proper one. Her trial was declared a nullity; the conviction was quashed and with the concurrence of the Crown she pleaded “Guilty” to manslaughter and was sentenced in a manner which resulted in her immediate release.

It is easy to be wise after the event but her defence Solicitor had engaged as interpreter a Client of his who was fluent in English with a native tongue of Gujarati. He also possessed some knowledge of Urdu.

In contrast, the Appellant’s native tongue was a form of Punjabi together with some knowledge of Urdu. Customarily, she mixed up in a jumbled sort of way those two languages and moreover “in a dialect which is the product of the rural area from which she emanates” [per Watkins, L J] (I surmise that that language, rather than dialect, was Mirpuri)]. The interpreter’s other native tongue was Hindu but, crucially, he knew no Punjabi.

Following her release this lady went into a rapid decline and distressingly she soon expired. It seems plain that during her marriage she had been the victim of her husband’s domestic violence.

The community and to its credit the criminal justice system resolved to learn from this tragic and disturbing case.

The Nuffield Foundation, the Institute of Linguists and the National Register of Public Service Interpreters

It will have been observed that for reasons to this day I but imperfectly understand it took a very long time, in fact from April 1985 until 1991, for the Iqbal Begum case to be reported. That notwithstanding, much thought and effort went into a radical improvement in the arrangements for interpreting and translating provision in the wake of that case’s outcome and in advance of the report itself.

Circa 1990 as I recall, there was a major conference on the subject under the auspices of and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. It can be asserted with reasonable certainty that the right people contributed and for example the Law Society was represented by Roger Ede, the then Policy Adviser to the Society’s Criminal Law Committee.

I believe that the Institute of Linguists had already been engaged for some time in this general field although equally I believe it would be fair to add more in relation to translating provision and conference interpreting, with its allied though far from fully comparable skills to those required of community or as otherwise described public service interpreting.

Two key developments to emerge as a result of much anguished and co-operative thought and interaction were the National Register of Public Service Interpreters and a national agreement concerning the optimum method for the Courts, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Probation Service to secure the services of public service interpreters and translators with some genuine prospect of their having the appropriate skills, experience and ideally accreditation to undertake the work. In essence, the exhortation was for all criminal justice service agencies to engage interpreters and translators by reference wherever possible to the Register featuring interpreters who had subscribed their particulars. In theory, interim accreditation was to be allowed to those with no or limited relevant qualifications or experience though working towards the attainment of full status. In theory also, full status was to be assigned to those who had passed all heads of the examination to lead to a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting.

No system is perfect and there developed for example an argument that too many registrants were thereafter passported to full status merely by reason of their possession of impressive degrees in, to be frank, scarcely relevant disciplines. At least, however, all criminal justice service personnel had been enabled to identify some genuine re-assurance that an Iqbal Begum scenario would be much less likely to arise on their watch.

It may be worth mentioning at this point that the National Register is still with us and thriving. Also, it has been run variously by the Institute of Linguists and then by a body entitled the National Register of Public Service Interpreters and as I believe now essentially by interpreters, a decidedly valuable development.

It is also important as it seems to me to observe that the Register, previously accessible only on payment of a subscription, is now available free of charge to our profession.

Clearly, no individual defence practitioner can be required to avail her/himself of this access but it is difficult in the extreme to construct a case for placing one’s trust in whichever agency deploying personnel of unproven and often no real skill or proficiency. This must especially be the case as I would argue now that access comes without charge and indeed the Practice Note issued some time ago on this subject by the Society’s Criminal Law Committee is helpful in its guidance on these issues.

Other Litigious Areas

Similar concerns do very much exist in relation to immigration appeal tribunals, employment tribunals and family and children cases. There are other categories of work where vigilance is necessary. No other tribunals or Courts as far as I am aware have espoused the use of the National Register or the letter or the spirit of the national agreement but it has been the view of many working in these fields that they should have emulated the criminal justice system in that regard.

The positive features described above are now in danger of becoming history with the framework agreement having been implemented from the first of February of this year.

Non-contentious Legal Work

I maintain that there are many circumstances where there are dangers in undertaking for example will writing services or property buying for Clients without the services of an independent and accredited interpreter and/or translator rather than relying on the services of a family member or friend or acquaintance. Such a person, after all, is profoundly unlikely to have the necessary attributes to interpret or translate appropriately and may for that matter have some kind of vested interest in the transaction in question. That may be a debate for another day but I thought it right to touch upon it.

East Birmingham (later City) College Birmingham; the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting Course; and the West Midland Legal Interpreter Steering Committee

Quite coincidentally, circa 1992 my wife Yvonne’s career in education underwent a radical transformation. She took up a lectureship at the then East Birmingham College, later to be transformed into City College. From very early on, she created and with a colleague ran a course to lead to the attainment of the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI). Management at the College grew nervous about the continuance of the course given its personnel rich and long rather than short term success quotient for the students. The course evolved and constituted one of a very few serious initiatives to inculcate the relevant knowledge and skills called for in an interpreter.

One of the exhilarating ideas to emerge from the Nuffield Foundation’s intervention was that of all criminal justice service agencies having a seat regionally at a table where they might all identify, promote and maintain best practice in the selection and deployment of interpreters and translators and indeed in the standards of such services delivered.

Exhilarating indeed it was when with the help of long term friends and colleagues in various of the agencies with others Yvonne and I for over fifteen years ran a Committee consisting of representatives of all of the relevant agencies. We had a Magistrate member, senior Magistrates’ Court Clerks, senior police officers, a senior Crown Prosecutor, at least one senior Probation Officer, a representative and sometimes more than one from the Brasshouse Centre which professionally deployed interpreters and translators, Yvonne and her colleague representing City College and myself representing the Birmingham Law Society. At least as importantly, we had members who were skilled and experienced interpreters and translators: without them, it would have been an exercise in well meaning missionary work but missionary work nonetheless. We rejoiced in the name of the West Midland Legal Interpreter Steering Committee(WMLISC).

We strove to-and did-maintain standards both in terms of the actual provision of interpreters and of the standards of delivery on their parts. We also strove to-and did-raise an awareness in the system of the vital importance of the involvement of professional interpreters. An increasing respect was paid to them and to their work by the Courts and the various other agencies.

We also advised upon and monitored the contents and delivery of the DPSI course. More than that, on an entirely voluntary basis Crown Prosecution Service, Court, police, Probation Service and Social Services personnel ,accredited interpreters and defence practitioners contributed modules to the course in their own time and free of charge. Those modules included our explaining our contrasting roles in the system and our engaging in roleplay exercises where the students had no hiding place: they had to contribute if they were to keep up. They on the whole acquitted themselves well and we estimate that as a result there are now some two hundred and fifty accredited interpreters working in police stations, the Courts and Solicitors’ offices when engaged. Again on the whole, they are proficient and dedicated to their profession.

From time to time, the course came under threat from the College’s management spine by reason of its being so personnel and resource rich. Unhelpful in the extreme were the funding criteria imposed by the quasi-Government body in charge. I forget the name of that body but suffice it to say that so exacting was the course that the percentage of completely successful candidates upon which they insisted was infeasible for a course of such complexity and intensity.

Whenever closure threatened, with no little display of alarm and with some asperity the senior agency personnel on WMLISC would summon the City College managers to attend and spell out to them in terms just how essential they saw the continuance of the course to be. There were at that time after all very few even remotely comparable courses largely by reason of the funding criteria described above; there are significantly fewer now. The managers came; they listened; and they relented.

When failures arose whether by the police, the Court the Crown Prosecution Service or the defence, we intervened and to good, courteous effect. Standards were maintained; cordial relationships were developed. The then West Midlands Criminal Justice Liaison Committee (WMCJLC) and West Midlands Trials Issues Group (WMTIG) lent their support and the then West Midlands Chief Crown Prosecutor was a particular tower of strength. Magistrates on Saturday morning at the Victoria Law Courts in Birmingham gave freely of their time to conduct mock trials where, again with no hiding place, the students were required to assume the roles of Defendants, witnesses and interpreters. Crown Prosecutors and defence advocates also assumed their day job roles.

The Committee devised an aide-memoire for the guidance of Court and other personnel and this received the enthusiastic blessing of WMCJLC and WMTIG.

A very interesting thing was happening: without their necessarily appreciating it fully at the time, all of those contributing became far more aware of the role of the interpreter and of their interactions with her/him. We were all learning together. We passed the time of day in the street and in Court corridors or wherever. The interpreters emerging with accreditation were to be seen frequenting the Courts with their shoulders back and their heads held high.

In recognition of the partnership which had been developed, the West Midlands police gave tens of thousands of pounds to City College for the setting up of a language laboratory which had become a logistical necessity for the course to continue, so anxious were the police to have it survive.

In recognition further of the tough regime they had survived WMLISC every year organised a diploma ceremony for the successful students and their families. Sometimes Birmingham Law Society hosted the event, once the Brasshouse Centre and thereafter the venue settled upon was West Midlands Police Headquarters with an Assistant Chief Constable as the host. The celebrants often came with their families, sometimes to the extent of three generations. Managers from City College, the Chief Crown Prosecutor, the Bench Chair, a Governor of City College, Yvonne and the Recorder of Birmingham and a representative from the Institute of Linguists would speak and the audience would include Circuit and District Judges, many Magistrates, many Crown Prosecutors and defence practitioners and many Court Clerks. The diplomas would be distributed by a local M.P. or on one occasion by my good friend Lord (Robin) Corbett of Castle Vale, now sadly deceased.

These occasions engendered and further cemented friendships and facilitated a better understanding of our respective roles. I have said it before: these were exhilarating times.

What Went Wrong

I think it was in the mid 1990s that some East Midlands Police Forces were induced to give contracts for interpreting and translating services to CINTRA. Please forgive me: I cannot recall what the acronym stands for. It ended as I recall very badly and messily because of all the complaints from Judges and others of defaults over service delivery but eventually I believe that that all more or less fizzled out. However, it ought in my view to have served as a warning to the Ministry of Justice in particular that outsourcing in this area of provision was a perilous business where any and all professions to be able to deliver more cheaply than before should have been viewed with much scepticism.

As to the DPSI course, City College suffered a calamitous inspection where its management was exposed as being seriously flawed. As a result, its Principal left rather precipitately and a temporary Director was parachuted in to rescue or alternatively to condemn the whole shooting match. The failure had nothing to do with individual courses, still less the DPSI course, but the funding body mentioned above no longer wanted to or, I dare say, could cut any slack over the funding criteria. The “quick win” courses were retained but an obvious casualty given its sophisticated nature was the DPSI course which ceased to be in 2008. Voluntary redundancy beckoned and now Yvonne, of course at her own expense, is in the throes of a Phd at Aston University in Birmingham on a related topic.

WMLISC continued for some time but part of its raison d’etre had of course disappeared with the closure of the course. Fifteen years was its duration where so very often it seemed to us that we were defying the laws of gravity in keeping it going; WMLISC lasted rather longer.

The National Agreement(s) and the Framework Agreement

There was a second refined national agreement, actually. It had always, rightly, been viewed as a living organism and WMLISC contributed to the revised version. The constant factor was the clear direction wherever possible to engage by reference to the NRPSI.

I understand that a hub of some type is about to be put into operation nationally by the police. Please let it be understood that for all I know that is in principle a good idea if it should be adequately funded so as to provide interpreters at the drop of a hat in a myriad different languages in whichever location throughout the jurisdiction. The beauty of the former system was that it worked with the police and the Courts and indeed the Probation Service and ourselves of the defence knowing where to locate accredited interpreters by reference to the National Register and by a direct call to the interpreters themselves. That once said, by all means a hub.

But the mischief arises from the moving away from reference to the National Register and from the engagement of accredited interpreters. That way lies a disastrous sliding back to the pre-Iqbal Begum days.

Accredited interpreters will not have the least truck with Applied Language Solutions. First of all, the remuneration on offer is risible and secondly they value their individual reputations as professionals.

The Proposition of Overcharging by Accredited Interpreters

I am at a loss to understand this claim. The rates seem very modest to me and I shall shortly following upon this paper detail the respective rates before implementation of the new framework agreement as contrasted with after. I find it hard to identify any professional service provider who would consider the relative pittance offered by Applied Language Solutions anywhere near an adequate reward. Furthermore, before the first of February the scale of fees was a rigid one and had undergone no enhancement in as long as I can recall.

The Mischief

Non-attendance or late arrival by the interpreters deployed;

trials adjourned at vast public expense as a consequence;

Defendants languishing in custody as a consequence whether of adjourned trials or other Court processes or having their disposals otherwise delayed;

Complainants, Defendants and witnesses whether for the prosecution or the defence having to brace themselves all over again for the ordeal of giving evidence; and

in cases for sentence, Defendants and their families and victims and their families having the continuing stress and uncertainty of justice being delayed.

It needs absolutely to be emphasised that this is far from being merely a numbers game, that is to say, someone sharing a language or thereabouts with the suspect at the police station or with the Complainant, the Defendant and/or witnesses for both parties in Court.

The received wisdom is that it takes five years of intensive training and experience to lead to a sufficient proficiency in community interpreting and translating for there to be a full reliance on those services. This may well be the ideal and life, as we all know, is far from that. That once acknowledged, it is the very reverse of a reason to opt out of striving for better rather than mediocre or worse.

Many examples of dismal inadequacy have abounded from the first day of the new framework agreement. Common in the extreme are inadequate English, leading to such gaffes as “bitten” rather than “beaten” with a four day trial having to be aborted as a direct result and a Hungarian interpreter who did not know what a porch was so that but for the defence advocate having extensive knowledge of Hungarian himself the whole case would have proceeded on an entirely false premise. Do I hear Iqbal Begum?

Two more examples for the present may suffice:

There was the interpreter who told the Defendant that being charged with an offence meant that s/he was being fined by the Court; and

then there was the interpreter who in respect of an allegation of an act tending to pervert the course of justice conveyed the message to the Defendant that s/he was being accused of being perverted.

I could go on, and on.

The Family Silver

The above was a telling phrase of Harold and by that time Viscount Macmillan in a different context but we as citizens paid good money through our taxes for suchlike courses as that at City College so that proficient interpreters might emerge at the other end to the enhancement of our criminal justice and as we all hoped in due course of the justice system as a whole.

These accredited interpreters are with heavy hearts leaving their chosen profession in droves. They have homes to maintain and families to feed and with their other attributes they are likely to find alternative professional niches in which to deploy their very real strengths.

All of this is such a waste and an avoidable one at that. Consultation by Government with the various legitimate representative interpreter bodies had been the obvious line to take, but no.

What to do about all this

I do believe it to be important for me to say that as a constituency Council member I owe a duty to my constituents: under the new arrangements they are routinely being prevented from communicating in accordance with their professional obligations with those requiring interpreting services. This applies equally to prosecutors and defence practitioners and, as earlier remarked, to those representing in Courts and other tribunals leaving aside the criminal justice sphere. I have also earlier touched upon the distinct potential for the exercise of caution in non-contentious fields of practice.

Additionally, in many of these fields deferred decision making is costing our practitioner colleagues money especially in legal aid spheres of practice and that is to leave aside for the present the additional stress and frustration for an already beleaguered profession.

There is also the human rights aspect to be considered with clear Article 6(4) ECHR applications.

I am for the making of representations to Government .Individual challenges in individual cases are for practitioners to pursue on an individual basis and I propose joining forces with Solicitors’ groupings such as the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association.

To Conclude

My anxieties over these regressive developments have already been identified as above. I certainly maintain that some really serious consideration needs to be given as to precisely where we should go form here.

August 2012


Example 1

To attend Birmingham Court, 10 miles away from home, for 1 hr hearing plus waiting time and conferences with defendant/barrister/solicitor:


Waiting plus conferences

Travel Time



formerly paid by Court


included up to 3 hours




paid by ALS/Capita


not paid

not paid

car park= £11.20
petrol: £3.20
public transport= £3.80


Example 2

To attend WM Police Station for 2 hours, 10 miles from home:


Travel Time



formerly paid by WM Police



spent in petrol: £3.20


paid by ALS/Capita


not paid

not paid
spent in petrol: £3.20



Professional interpreters must not commit themselves for more than one job per day due to the uncertainty of the duration of the assignment.

Much has been said about NRPSI interpreters earning £30 per hour. This is true, but we do not work eight hours per day every day. In fact, the vast majority of us do not have jobs every day.

NRPSIs have not had increase in payment rates for over eight years; moreover, as freelancers, NRPSI interpreters do not have paid holidays.

As professionals, NRPSI interpreters have to pay annual renewal for the Register, membership of several organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists, Institute of Translators and Interpreters, Association of Police and Court Interpreters, apart from Indemnity Insurance for Interpreters and Translators and courses for CPD—Continuous Professional Development.

Prepared 5th February 2013