Interpreter shortage leaves court system tongue tied

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By Paul Thornton

COURT officials are being forced to draft in interpreters from England for a high-profile murder case because of a shortage of qualified Scots-based translators, it has been revealed.

The Crown Office have retained two Czech linguists from England to assist in the trial involving Slovakian man Marek Harcar.

The Scottish Court Service, who provides interpreters for accused persons, have also confirmed they had supplied one Slovak speaker for the case but would only say that he had come from a UK based agency.

Mr Harcar, 33, is accused of the murder of Moira Jones in May last year and his case, which is due to last three weeks, is due to begin at the High Court in Glasgow.

Prosecutors have confirmed they are to bring two Czech translators from England for the trial and the Scottish Court Service have admitted that they too have been forced to look south of the border for interpreters in the recent past.

Scottish interpreting agencies have recently come in for criticism after claims their translators were poorly trained and not qualified to assist in trials.

In November last year Sheriff James Tierney halted the trial of Kyzsztof Kucharski on the second day of evidence after it was revealed his interpreter had no qualifications.

Scottish courts only prefer interpreters to have the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI) – in England this is the base requirement.

One industry source said the reluctance to introduce this standard and professionalise the industry has led to a dearth of qualified and competent interpreters in Scotland – forcing officials to look elsewhere and shell-out tax-payers’ money on accommodation and expenses.

The source added: “Until there is a move to create the framework to have full-time, professional linguists employed in Scotland, this problem is not going to go away.”

The Scottish Court Service have spent more than £3m on interpreters in the last five years.

They confirmed that sourcing qualified interpreters was an issue which was being looked into.

A spokesman for the service said: “There are challenges in providing interpreters in courts where the business is essentially demand led.

“In one recent case interpreters were brought in from south of the border due to the non availability on the dates in question of suitably qualified interpreters in Scotland. We continue to monitor the situation.”

The Crown Office confirmed they have sourced two Czech interpreters from England for Mr Harcar’s case but would not say whether this was due to a lack of qualified interpreters here. They have also employed French and Polish interpreters from Scotland for the case.

A spokeswoman said: “The Crown has responsibility for sourcing interpreters for Crown witnesses whose main language is not English.

“In accordance with the procurement contract that the Crown has for interpreting services, we have engaged two Czech interpreters, and one each of French and Polish interpreters. The fees are commercial in confidence, in accordance with the terms of the contract.

“The Czech interpreters have been booked for five days, the Polish interpreter for two days, and the French interpreter for three days. “

2 COMMENTS

  1. It is true that the DPSI is the basic qualification for ihterpreters; it should be a requirement, not just preferred (better still is a qualification from Heriot-Watt – the only place in Scotland you can study properly to be an interpreter). Glasgow City Council has an interpreting service but there is currently no professional development training for them. Previously an effort was made to provide such training but the people giving it had little or no interpreting experience themselves. I do not know the situation in England but imagine that Scotland is way behind in this area.

  2. In Australia there is also a shortage of qualified interpreters. We have had to turn away many pieces of work because we could not staff the assignment. As an industry we need to encourage the translator and interpreter profession.

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