Reposted from RPSI Linguist Lounge.

I am a Registered Public Service Interpreter and my registration number is 14041. I attended Caernarfon Crown Court on Monday, 13th May 2013, to interpret for the defence solicitors in the case of R – v – HECKO. The defendant is Slovak.

Upon arrival I observed three interpreters sitting in the waiting room. I introduced myself. I asked them which company they are from and was advised that one of them was sent from Capita (she lives in Cornwall) and the other two were from a company called EATI near Manchester. I asked them what their qualifications were and was told that none of them have any. I said to them that that was quite worrying since this is a murder trial and the defendant needs someone who will fully understand the terminology.

The trial proceeded. Judge Hughes asked the interpreters to be sworn in. Interpreter 1 went into the witness box and read the affirmation. The Judge then asked the interpreter to say the same but in Slovak so that the defendant understood what she had just said. The interpreter said something to the effect that she will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Interpreter 2 went into the witness box. Again the same, she was sworn in. The Judge asked her to say the same but in Slovak to which she replies: “I do not know how to say this in Slovak.” Judge; “You are a Slovak interpreter right?” Interpreter 2; “Yes, but I have never said this in Slovak.” She then said exactly the same as Interpreter 1. Interpreter 3 was sworn and just repeated what the other 2 interpreters just said. The Judge then asked them to go and interpret from the booth.

I listened to the interpreter “interpreting” for the defendant. They were taking it in turns. I mentioned to the solicitor for the defendant, Paul McAlinden, that the quality of the interpreting was very poor. So poor in fact, that they missed ¾ of the sentences and had I not heard the English version, I would have no idea what was being said.

After some legal arguments, the trial was adjourned to the next day. I had the opportunity to speak to the mentioned interpreters, who were quite stressed and told me that they had no clue what was being said, as “they are not lawyers”. I told them not to come back if they felt that they could not do the job, as it is important that the defendant understands.

The next day, Tuesday, 14th of May 2013, defendant complained to his barrister, Gregory Bull QC. He told him that the interpreters spoke Slovak but they weren’t interpreting what was being said and only interpreted the first word of each sentence.

When I went to the courtroom I noticed that only one interpreter of the three had turned up (EATI) and there was a male interpreter present too. The Judge came in the courtroom and asked interpreter 4 to be sworn in. This interpreter was from EATI. He translated the affirmation, but was speaking in Czech. I notified the QC who spoke to the Judge. When the Judge asked Interpreter 4 what language he was speaking, he confirmed that he spoke Czech. Then he proceeded to tell the Judge that it’s “OK, as Czech and Slovak are nearly the same and the defendant will be able to understand 95% of what I am saying and he might understand the other 5%”. The Judge then told him that unfortunately in a trial like this it is not enough for the defendant to understand only 95%. Then G. Bull QC pointed out that the other interpreter was in fact not translating properly either and was just summarising what was being said, if that. The Judge asked Interpreter 2 to come to the stand and asked her if she was interpreting correctly.

Interpreter 2: “I am only summarising. To be honest, I am only an interpreter. Interpreter summarises. I was told that this was a murder trial and I have told the owner of the translating company that I will be only summarising. He then contacted the court and was told that that was OK. My husband is an ex-detective and he told me that summarising is enough. Translator is a person who translates word by word and interpreter would summarise.”

The Judge then asked them both to leave and asked the Clerk to find a replacement. At around 11.15 am the case was adjourned till the afternoon. The Clerk told me that Capita was sending an interpreter who would be arriving before 2 pm.

I noticed the interpreter arriving shortly before 2 pm. I know this Capita interpreter as he was an interpreter in another case that I was working on, and I knew that he was Czech and his level of English is really poor.

The Judge asked the interpreter whether he speaks Slovak to which he answered “yes”. Interpreter 5 was sworn in and the Judge asked him to translate what he just said. Interpreter 5 speaks Czech. I notified the QC, who addressed the Judge, who said that the interpreter just confirmed that he speaks Slovak. QC: ”With all due respect, our interpreter just confirmed that he in fact speaks Czech”.

Judge: ”Your witness had better come to the witness stand and give evidence then.”

I took to the stand where I was sworn in and I indeed confirm that this interpreter was speaking Czech.

The Judge calls the interpreter back in and asks him what language he will be speaking to the defendant. At that point Interpreter 5 confirms that he speaks Czech, “but in 10 years that I’ve been doing this job I have never had any problems with this.” This sentence is said in really poor English and we all struggle to actually understand what he was trying to say.

At 2.30pm the Judge adjourned the case again till the next morning with the hope that a qualified interpreter turns up.

The learned Clerk approached me and asked if I had any contact details for interpreters and I directed him to the NRPSI website. He also said that the Judge was writing a letter of complaint.

On Wednesday 15 May 2013 two NRPSI interpreters turned up and the case continued.