International Conference on Court Interpreting in London - still resisting ALS/C

Legal and court interpreters aim to reverse outsourcing to commercial agencies, assure proper working conditions and gain statutory regulation of their profession.

On 5-6 April 2013 London Docklands hosted a two-day conference on “The Challenges to Professional Translation and Interpreting in the Justice Sector” organised jointly by EULITA and one of its UK members, APCI (Association of Police and Court Interpreters). APCI, together with other interpreting organisations under the aegis of one of the largest trade unions in the UK, has formed a coalition of Professional Interpreters for Justice (PIJ) that is campaigning for the reversal of the recently introduced changes in the legal interpreting sector.

The conference also offered an opportunity to network with professionals from outside the interpreting community: Baroness Ludford, MEP and Andy Slaughter MP, Shadow Minister for Justice, were keynote speakers along with representatives of the Magistrates’ Association and practising solicitors.

AIIC is an associate member of EULITA and was represented at the event by its president and three members of its Legal and Court Interpreting Committee.

The programme was challengingly packed with speakers discussing legal terminology wordbanks, training, testing and continuous professional development (CPD), various EU-funded projects (both completed and new), as well as recent developments in other countries. A recurring reference was made to the EU Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, which was adopted in 2010 and is to be transposed into national legislation by October 2013. Unfortunately, no representative of the UK Ministry of Justice was able to attend the conference to tell us how, in the light of the recent turmoil in the court interpreting sector, this transposition is progressing in the United Kingdom.

One of the particular challenges was addressed towards the end when the rationale for the term legal interpreter and translator’ – LIT in short – was discussed. We learned that there are attempts to combine court interpreting with community interpreting in a draft ISO standard, when it is not entirely clear to interpreters themselves what ‘community interpreting’ really is. This article offers a definition in the US context. In the UK, however, the term ‘public service interpreting’ has been used to cover legal, health and local government settings (but interestingly not central government ones). It has been argued recently that this term should also cover interpreting at events such as the Olympic Games. An equivalent term ‘public service translation’ is not, however, used very widely if at all.

Such dilemmas are not new as shown in this 1999 paper by Holly Mikkelson in which she concluded:

     […] that regardless of the adjective preceding the word "interpreter," practitioners of this profession the world over perform the same service and should meet the same standards of competence. What accounts for the tremendous disparity in working conditions and status is not the nature of the interpreting itself, but external factors that affect the market in which interpreters render their services.

In this spirit, the AIIC Legal and Court Interpreting Committee offered a presentation on working as an interpreter at the International Criminal Court prepared by ICC interpreter and committee member Annie Bougault De Benedictis, which due to unforeseen circumstances had to be read out by Christiane Driesen. Christiane, who chairs the Committee, also talked about the recently completed EU-funded ImPLI project (Improving Police and Legal Interpreting).

There followed an interesting discussion on setting common standards for national and international interpreting and whether this can ever be achieved. One difficulty highlighted was that of training interpreters working with languages of lesser diffusion. Oddly enough, while we were debating this in London, a similar topic was raised in this article in The Economist pointing out that “The international courts’ language apparatuses show that it’s possible to integrate newer interpretation services into a modern courtroom effectively.”

Liese Katschinka, President of EULITA and member of the AIIC Legal and Court Interpreting Committee, discussed other challenges stemming from the new EU Directive, such as the definition of ‘an independent interpreter’ in Art 5(2). Is an interpreter working through an agency (sometimes holding a monopoly in the court interpreting sector) still independent if he or she relies on said agency for payment and is subject to its code of conduct and disciplinary proceedings? 

Another controversial topic is the use of remote interpreting. Art 2 (6) states:

Where appropriate, communication technology such as videoconferencing, telephone or the Internet may be used, unless the physical presence of the interpreter is required in order to safeguard the fairness of the proceedings.

The use of remote interpreting is a recurring theme and not only in legal settings. It was recently discussed at the AIIC Private Market Sector meeting and it was also the topic of this article in the AIIC Webzine. A second edition of the EU-sponsored Avidicus Project exploring the use of technology in multilingual criminal proceedings is currently underway, so there will soon be more to report on this issue. 

The conference was also addressed by two UK human rights charities, Reprieve and Fair Trials International, that assist people involved with the justice system of a country that is not their own. Complaints about the lack of a fair trial for want of an interpreter during the proceedings and requests for assistance in language issues are common. Case studies presented at the conference, which are also available on the charities’ websites, gave examples of how difficult it may be to obtain effective translation and interpretation services in a courtroom in some countries widely assumed to follow the rule of law. 

Recommended citation format:
Legal & Court Interpreting. "International Conference on Court Interpreting in London - still resisting ALS/C". May 6, 2013. Accessed July 2, 2020. <>.