Spending on UK Court Interpreters Doubles

Spending on UK Court Interpreters Doubles

The cost of foreign language translators in UK courts almost doubled in a year, according to the country’s government.

A total of £15,537,821 was paid out in interpreter bills for HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) interpreters last year.

This is up from £7,940,128 in 2012, Justice Minister Shailesh Vara has revealed. But the steep rise says more about the changing cosmopolitan face of the UK than it does about rising individual charges. Mr Vara said the expenditure hike is in part because the amount of interpreters needed to attend court is estimated to have soared by a fifth.

The overall spend is likely to be greater as the statistics account for interpreters sourced via a government contract with outsourcing firm Capita. The figures do not include bookings made outside this service. Mr Vara said off-contract bookings have “substantially” lowered since the beginning of 2012, with several moving on to the Capita contract. The 2012 figure is based on an 11-month period as the Capita contract started at the finish of January that year.

Why have court interpreter costs risen?

The justice minister claimed the expenditure on interpreters rose last year “due to changes made to the contract” in May 2013.

Mr Vara was replying in a written parliamentary answer to Labour MP Mark Hendrick (Preston). He continued: “Off-contract bookings made by HMCTS are outside of these spend figures.” Mr Vara said the switch from off-contract to Capita TI is reflected in the changing year-on-year contract spend. He said: “Spend for 2012 is based on an 11-month period as the contract did not go live until January 30, 2012.

“Expenditure has also increased in the second year of contract due to changes made to the contract in May 2013 and an estimated 20% increase on volume.” Mr Vara said that £15 million was saved in the first year of the contract.

Why are court interpreters so important? 

Imagine being stranded in court in an overseas country charged with a crime you didn’t commit and not being able to speak a word of the native language. Disconcerting, to say the least.

That is why an accurate interpretation is key to preventing misunderstandings between defendants, prosecutors, lawyers, judge and jury. Highly skilled interpreters, who need a level of knowledge about the justice system and criminal processes, as well as languages, help to ensure a fair trial. They must stay impartial and interpret exactly what is being said, without allowing their own personal prejudices or values to sway them.

Japan is one country that really understands the value of good translation in helping justice be seen. It employs more than 4,000 interpreters speaking a combined total of 58 different language combinations.

In the UK, court/legal interpreters are present throughout the entire legal process. This includes when the defendant is charged, through subsequent interviews and at the court hearing.

Why is accurate court interpreting so important? 

It seems that the competency of court interpreters can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal in a criminal trial.

This was put to the test in a study by Sandra Hale, an associate professor from the University of Western Sydney’s interpreting and translation research group. She researched the impact of court interpreters on the credibility of individuals and their testimonies. The results showed that without specialist training, court interpreters are liable to make errors that can lead to unjust verdicts. Ms Hale said: “When the testimony of a person who cannot speak English is required, the impression they make within the court is completely in the hands of their interpreter.”


Written by Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf is Head of Digital at TranslateMedia. He has an interest in how technology can help businesses achieve their marketing objectives. He's been working in digital marketing and web development since 2001 across a wide range of industries and clients.

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