Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from the Institute of Translation and Interpreting

I am writing on behalf of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). With a membership of over 3,000 members, we are one of the largest professional bodies for translators and interpreters in the UK, and we also have corporate members (translation companies, universities, etc). In that respect, our Institute represents the broad interests of the profession.

Executive Summary

The MoJ consulted the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) at an early stage of developing the Framework Agreement, but appeared to pay little heed to anything that we said.

On 3 May 2011 we submitted a clear list of our organisation’s concerns about the Framework Agreement plans to the MoJ (appended at the end of this document), which focused on the following areas of concern:

(i)The importance of interpreters/translators being members of a recognised professional association.

(ii)The omission of ITI from the list of recognised qualifications.

(iii)The proposed three-tier structure.

(iv)The monopolistic conditions to be created by the use of prime contractors.

(v)The level of rates to be earned by translators and interpreters and the issue of quality of service to the justice sector.

(vi)Ownership of the planned register and complaints process.

(vii)The pool of available translators/interpreters and the future training of suitable people.

(viii)Range of management information planned.

(ix)The assessment of interpreters and translators.

(x)Code of conduct.

This also appeared to be ignored by the officials at the Ministry of Justice. ITI was sufficiently concerned that the Framework Agreement’s proposed changes might lead to a reduction in the quality of court interpreting, to witnesses and defendants not receiving clear interpretation, and to possible miscarriages of justice, that we subsequently raised our concerns with government ministers.

On 14 September 2011, we therefore wrote to the PM, deputy PM, to Crispin Blunt MP and to Chris Grayling MP. A copy of the letter that ITI sent to them is also appended at the end of this document.

Subsequently, we note with regret that many of the concerns that ITI voiced have turned out to be very valid. ITI still has the same concerns that we voiced in the letter to government ministers in September 2011, which I will not repeat here since they are all in the appended letter.

Throughout the entire process, ITI’s concerns have been that:

Although the MOJ sought ITI’s views, they appear to have taken no notice of them at any stage. It appears to have been the semblance of consultation, rather than real consultation.

In the desire to save money, quality was thrown out of the window. With proper consultation with professional bodies, it would have been possible to explore ways of saving money whilst at the same time maintaining quality.

There has been no awareness at all on the part of the MoJ or of government ministers that court interpreting is a highly skilled profession. Simply speaking a second language or having a languages degree does NOT make someone a qualified interpreter, nor make them suitably skilled to interpret in a court environment.

August 2012


I am writing on behalf of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, a professional body that represents professional translators and interpreters in the UK. We have a membership of over 3,000 members, and our professional journal (the ITI Bulletin) has an international circulation of over 7,000 readers.

In the UK, the Ministry of Justice is proposing making changes to how interpreters for courts and police stations are recruited, assessed and paid. ITI is deeply concerned about these proposed changes, feeling that they ignore existing professional qualifications, that they will reduce pay to levels where many fully-qualified interpreters are forced out of the profession, and that there will therefore be a deterioration in the standards of interpreting in courts and police stations, with an associated risk of serious miscarriages of justice. Furthermore, we believe that the full costs of this project have not been properly assessed, and that the planned changes will result in reduced tax income for the British government and in higher social costs as existing experienced, qualified professional interpreters become forced to rely on state financial support.

The consultation carried out by the Ministry of Justice has taken little or no account of the representations made by our Institute.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to share our deep concerns with you, and to enclose the September 2011 issue of our professional journal, the ITI Bulletin, so that you might read for yourself the depth of the concern within our profession. May I in particular draw your kind attention to pages 6, 9 (which summarises the submission we made to the MoJ on 3 May 2011) and 13.

We will look forward to hearing back from you.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Rosenthal

Chair, ITI Council


Institute of Translation & Interpreting 3 May 2011

ITI response to Ministry of Justice letter of 6 April 2011 Regarding New Proposals for Provision of Interpreting & Translation Services in the Justice Sector

(a) Introduction

ITI would like to respond as follows to the letter of 6 April 2011 from the Better Trials Unit at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) seeking comments on the proposed, new arrangements regarding the provision of interpreting and translation services in the UK justice sector.

The Institute’s comments below are based on a direct, updated consultation amongst its members over the middle of April 2011. Senior representatives from ITI will be pleased to elaborate on and discuss any points with the MoJ at any time over the coming weeks.

Our comments are made under the following sections:

(i)The importance of interpreters/translators being members of a recognised professional association.

(ii)The omission of ITI from the list of recognised qualifications.

(iii)The proposed three-tier structure.

(iv)The monopolistic conditions to be created by the use of prime contractors.

(v)The level of rates to be earned by translators and interpreters and the issue of quality of service to the justice sector.

(vi)Ownership of the planned register and complaints process.

(vii)The pool of available translators/interpreters and the future training of suitable people.

(viii)Range of management information planned.

(ix)The assessment of interpreters and translators.

(x)Code of conduct.

(b) ITI’s comments and advice

(i) Membership of a recognised professional body

ITI would urge that the MoJ and all appointed contractors aim to ensure that all translators and interpreters engaged are members of a recognised professional membership association, not just that they have a suitable qualification or a level of experience. Such membership means that not only is the translator or interpreter suitably qualified and tested or has had to provide evidence of appropriate training and experience, but—very importantly—that he/she is additionally bound by a professional code of conduct which can be enforced by way of disciplinary proceedings. Also, membership of a professional body normally expects the individual to actively maintain and update their professional skills via a continuing professional development programme (CPD).

Membership of a recognised professional body means that the interpreter/translator has already been appropriately assessed and that their work would be of a quality sufficient to ensure a safe, reliable, and fair contribution to relevant proceedings.

(ii) Need to include ITI in list of recognised qualifications for interpreting and translating

In the Quality Standards document supplied with the letter, ITI is only included as a recognised membership body under the (very short, final) section referring to translators, and not at all in the dominant section covering interpreters.

ITI considers this to be a serious omission because the MoJ has previously recognised that its MITI, FITI and, specifically, its PCI (police & court interpreter) categories of membership are all appropriate. Although they do not have formal external accreditation, all are awarded on the basis of very stringent knowledge, skill, experience and referee criteria. More to the point, though, these ITI qualifications were actually—as the MoJ will appreciate—already in the Revised National Agreement, 2008 and in the (amended) appendix list of suitable qualifications issued by the MoJ in November 2010.

(iii) The proposed tier structure

ITI would caution against adoption of a tiered structure for classifying interpreters and the type of work they may perform in the justice sector. The first reason is that there is a strong risk that this approach would lead to a lowering and greater inconsistency of standards of interpreting and outcomes achieved because there is a risk contractors would be tempted to use interpreters from a tier where there is a lower engagement/hire fee payable. We believe that all quarters of the justice system should be assured of the same level of interpreting/translating service. It is not reasonable, for example, to view the quality of interpreting at an initial police interview or in a lower court as less important than the quality of interpreting to be provided in a higher court. That would be a real risk, if interpreters with different levels of qualifications/professional expertise are used.

The second reason is that it is not always possible to know in advance the actual level of skill needed in an interpreting situation and, in particular, to assume that lesser-experienced/qualified interpreters will be adequate in some situations. The level of difficulty of any interpreting assignment is very unpredictable, depending on a wide range of variables such as accents, vocabulary used, the state of mind of the people whose words are interpreted, audibility, clarity of enunciation and expression of all the parties involved It is surely only fair and just that everyone in the justice sector is provided with the same level of service and expertise by the interpreter engaged to help them.

(iv) Use of prime contractors causing a monopolistic situation

If the MoJ’s new arrangements lead to just one or two “prime” contractors to meet areas of need in the justice sector, ITI would have strong misgivings about seeing such a monopolistic situation. Any procurement solution, of course, has to strike a balance between competition—which generally leads to more economical prices—and having a decent number of providers who have adequate scale to be able to invest in required systems and achieve streamlined processes. Our fear is that the proposed arrangements might go too far by creating too much power and reliance on just a very restricted number of commercial contractors who (inevitably) would be primarily profit-driven: such a situation is not generally good for the overall health and development of any sector.

If and where prime contractors go on to engage “sub-contractors”—perhaps regionally or for more specific services—and they in turn engage individual freelance translators or interpreters, ITI feels this would still leave a multi-layered supply structure in the justice sector, with each stage of the supply chain needing to factor in its own layer of cost. We can certainly see that some streamlining of areas of overall administration in the supply chain will save costs to some extent, but we wonder how much of a net cost saving will actually be achieved overall?

(v) Rates paid to interpreters/translators and risk to quality of service

We fear that the planned procurement approach, with a restricted contractor base, could lead to a lowering of fees paid to individual interpreters and translators, as commercial companies naturally seek ways to drive down costs to increase their profits. Such professionals are already under great financial strain as they see the status and income level from their work steadily decrease. Many ITI members working in the sector have already indicated they will have to give up working in the justice sector completely and seek better terms of work elsewhere. This is a great worry. More to the point, potential new entrants to the sector will be deterred from starting work in the justice system at all—and that endangers the long-term assurance of adequate supply of appropriately skilled translators/interpreters for the UK justice system.

To help protect this provision of interpreters and translators, ITI believes that a national, guideline structure of professional rates to be paid to freelance translators/interpreters by contractors should be defined and adopted as an important component in the new procurement approach.

As part of their natural inclination to pursue higher profits, there is an inevitable risk that some contractors may seek on occasions to engage an interpreter or translator who is lesser qualified/experienced than the assignment calls for because such an individual costs less. In such a situation, there is the risk that the quality of work provided by that individual could be less than what should be fairly and reasonably expected by the client needing their services.

(vi) Ownership of the planned register and complaint processes

One of the requirements indicated in the framework agreement is for the contractor to build and maintain a register of suitably qualified interpreters and translators and to make this accessible across the justice sector. ITI believes that open accessibility is important because such information is a matter of public information and no commercial company should be allowed to “own” or gain unfairly from such data.

Relating to this register is the need for a high level of fairness and transparency regarding procedures for managing complaints about individual translators/interpreters and taking disciplinary action against them. ITI would urge, likewise, that it is only fair and reasonable that there is a channel to enable translators and interpreters to voice any complaints or grievances in relation to contractors/agencies. In all types of complaint process, it is important that there is involvement or representation from all key stakeholder groups, in order to help ensure a fair and balanced result.

(vii) Pool of available translators/interpreters and future training

The framework agreement calls for contractors to increase the local numbers of suitably qualified and vetted interpreters and translators. ITI believes that this is a noble aim but we fear that some commercial suppliers will more concerned with controlling costs and streamlining processes rather than funding the development of future translators/interpreters.

We would also take issue with the belief indicated in the document that the pool of suitable interpreters/translators can be increased simply by hiring more people who speak two languages and that a degree in the target language is adequate. This fails to recognise, in particular, that a competent interpreter needs more than just an ability to speak two languages. Interpreting is a highly skilled activity which calls for very practical verbal skills, training in the process of interpreting, lots of actual experience, and education in relevant topics and vocabulary.

An additional point on this issue of raising availability: ITI believes that it is not at all realistic to have the performance target of 95% for contractors offering all languages within a 25 mile radius. For several, less common languages (eg Vietnamese) in many areas of the UK, such a level of local availability is simply not going to be possible—unless the quality of the “interpreter” engaged is very much lowered and, in which case, the quality and reliability of interpreting provided will be compromised greatly.

(viii) Range of management information

ITI welcomes the intention to get contractors/suppliers to report a range of management information in relation to their operating performance. The list indicated in document 4 suggests a good, core range.

A particular suggestion we would make—given the concern and worry amongst freelance interpreters/translators over rates they will receive under the new arrangements—is that contractors/suppliers should be encouraged to include in their management reporting some data about average rates/fees they have paid. It would not be reasonable to expect commercial companies to divulge detailed data for every aspect of their work (eg per assignment, per region, per tier, per language, per collaborative partner), but some “top-line” average figures of rates paid would go a long way to reassure freelancers and help the justice sector overall to track the market better.

(ix) Assessment & development of translators and interpreters

ITI was surprised to see the intention to require candidate interpreters to attend an “assessment centre” to ensure adequate competence. We wonder who is going to organise and carry out such assessments, what is going to be the cost, who is going to pay, and is this intention not going to create excessive/unnecessary new bureaucracy and also duplicate to some extent existing qualifications and vetting/assessment/validation standards and processes already applied by relevant professional and educational organisations (including CIOL, ITI)?

Especially for certain, less common languages, we wonder simply if enough suitably qualified individuals could be found easily and regularly enough to be able to carry out the sort of assessment outlined.

We think this part of the Quality Standards document (document 2) needs further thinking: we feel it is not sufficiently detailed for ITI to be able to comment on much further.

We do welcome the requirement in the framework agreement (document 1) for all interpreters and translators to follow “a continuous development programme”. That said, however, it is a very broad aspiration at this stage, lacking any detail, and we consider that a lot more work will be needed to define exactly what should be involved. This requirement will require a lot of time and work on the part of companies to set up and/or maintain suitable activities and processes.

ITI believes that it and other relevant professional bodies could play a potentially very valuable role here by capitalising on their existing CPD processes and helping to define, organise and support suitable arrangements for the overall benefit of the profession and saving commercial firms a lot of time and duplication of effort.

(x) Code of conduct

ITI welcomes and supports the requirement for contractors/suppliers to oblige their interpreters/translators to follow a Code of Conduct. We have reviewed the suggested twenty-two clauses and consider that they cover a good spread of professional and ethical obligations/standards. We believe that such a code should be closely allied to the corresponding codes of professional bodies such as ITI and CIOL. We would welcome the opportunity to work together in more detail with the MoJ to ensure that such codes are developed in suitable alignment.

(c) Conclusion

ITI hopes that the above ten areas of comment and feedback will be taken on board by the MoJ as it finalises details of the new, proposed procurement arrangements.

In particular, we would mention again our request for the MoJ immediately to address the omission of ITI from the list of recognised qualifications for interpreting and translating.

Prepared 4th February 2013