I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at statute, but if you haven’t, trust me, it is not written in normal English as you and I would understand it. Legalese exists for a purpose: namely to try to ensure that no other possible construction can be put on the words involved than the one the person drafting the legislation intended. However, if the law is black and white then would we need lawyers? The reality is that the law is, generally, shades of grey, so we do need lawyers. Justice is very important, and for all their faults, our systems in the UK are, generally, pretty good and fair. It’s when you look at some other countries’ justice systems that you realise just how good ours actually are…
That said, even for a native of this country, fluent in English, it can be harrowing in the extreme to be taken to task by the authorities, even over what seems a relatively trivial matter. Think how much more difficult it is for someone who doesn’t speak English. Then consider the (daily) news about immigration and the likelihood that, despite the fact that recent EU/African Leaders conference in Malta debated what might be done to alleviate the problems, we shall be welcoming even more refugees in the very near future and for many years to come.
Consequently, it’s incumbent on all those involved in the justice system to be aware of what the law requires. There is a legal right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, enshrined under the Human Rights Act 1998 and Directive 2010/4/EU of the European Parliament. Specifically, Articles 5 and 6 of the Act cover “the arrest or detention, charge and trial of suspects and defendants.” At that point, the law states, “Any person arrested must be informed promptly in a language which they understand and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against them and have the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak the language used in court for the purpose of a fair trial.”
Furthermore, EU Directive 2010/64 “aims to improve the protection of individual rights by developing the minimum standards for the right to a fair trial and the right of defence guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.” This means that the UK has to make certain that anyone who is arrested must be able to understand the case being made against them and also have the right of defence. For that to happen, it is vital that an interpreter is available, skilled not just in the language concerned but also with knowledge of the legal system in this country and, crucially, the sensitivity and tact necessary to deal with people who are often under stress and not infrequently potentially victims themselves.
Depending on your personal/political view this may provoke either splenetic rage or wholehearted approval. However, what it is, above all else, is the law and, in this case it is pretty much black and white. As I said at the outset, we have much to be proud of about the way we dispense justice in our country. I’d like it to stay like that, with the law continuing to be applied fairly and honestly, and in such a way that everyone can have faith in its integrity. And if that means we need to provide interpreters, while I’d like it to be my company that provides, them, in the great scheme of things what matters is that we do provide them now and for the foreseeable future.
David Orr, Director, Global Connects