Unqualified Interpreters Used in Scotland

In Scotland, The Sunday Herald (June 9, 2008) is reporting that the delivery of justice in many immigration cases is being compromised because of the use of unqualified interpreters for immigrants in the courts. In many cases, including assaults, custody disputes, and even a rape case, students are being used instead of professional interpreters.

To read the full article, see the article Justice System Compromised by Unqualified Interpreters written by John Bynorth, Home Affairs Editor.

One of the issues I am keenly concerned about is the problem of racism in the delivery of justice, specifically as it relates to the problem discrimination against non-English and limited-English speaking citizens and legal immigrants.  In the United States, non-English speaking defendants are protected by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts, which states that no discrimination can take place based upon country of national origin, which includes language rights.

I sympathize with many court administrators and judges, who are also concerned about giving such defendants a fair trial, but are constrained by budgets and lack of qualified interpreters.  Clearly universities can and need to do more in the realm of training and certifying interpreters, especially in the languages most needed in the courts.

Similar problems exist in the school systems, in hospitals and health care facilities, and in many social programs that receive federal funding.

I do not know much about the Scottish system, how court interpreters are assigned, how much they are paid, and what system of certification is in place.  I do know that the justice systems often falsely accuses immigrants of crimes based upon racial profiling and other discriminatory factors. In this world of heightened terror alerts, such accusations against immigrants can lead to further inequities, such as visas being withdrawn and families separated.

The problem is one well-known in this state of Massachusetts. The number of Hispanic males in Massachusetts jails is widely disproportionate to their percentage of the population, yet we pride ourselves on our commitment to equal justice.  Our Office of Court Interpreter Services does a pretty good job comparatively, offering interpreting services in up to 35 languages and paying a decent rate to interpreters.  And the interpreters who have passed a qualification exam with their office receive a higher fee, providing an incentive to improve one’s skills.  Still, certain languages and cases fall through the cracks. Training can always be improved, and the pool of qualified interpreters expanded, especially in the newer immigrant languages.

I suggest more collaboration between court systems and universities might be in order.  Language training, testing, and certification is one of the things that universities do well.  Interpreting training programs are growing inside universities, so the hope is that states agencies and national governments will take advantage of the growing expertise in the field.

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