How has legal interpreting been impacted by the COVID-19 Restrictions?

At the time of writing, government guidelines still state that everyone who can work from home should continue to do so. With interpreters required in several scenarios in the legal sector, including law courts, police interviews and legal meetings, Mission Translate explores how the lockdown measures have impacted best practice during their interpreting assignments.

Working with Interpreters During Court Hearings

The HM Courts and Tribunals Service is aiming to increase the use of phone, video and other technology to complete as many hearings as possible remotely. Crown Courts are, therefore, only sitting to hear urgent matters or when the requirements of fairness and justice need a court-based hearing, and it is deemed safe to do so. In these scenarios, the judge may limit the number of persons present in the court, and interpreters may be used remotely. Court guidelines state that it is no longer safe for interpreters to sit next to the necessary parties.

Translation of any documentation required for the hearing, or audio recording and transcription, can be completed as usual.

Using Remote Technology to Complete Hearings or Meetings

Detailed guidance has been provided to those asked to join a remotely held hearing to ensure it is conducted justly. This includes using a private and quiet space where there will be no interruption, having a suitable signal and charge to complete the session, and making arrangements for confidential communication with a legal representative during the hearing. Conduct that is typically expected in court should also be followed when completing the hearing remotely. The guidance refers to using technology, such as telephone conference call facilities, BT MeetMe, Skype for Business, or their own Cloud Video Platform (CVP), as potential options to carry out the hearing. Still, it does not recommend any single method as a preference.

Interpreters have highlighted the difficulty of holding court assignments remotely. During a recent two-day remote interpreting assignment for a UK Family Court, reports from an interpreter described how the Skype Business technology used was ‘unsuitable’ for the meeting that included ten people. Communication was disjointed, repeatedly having to stop and start to allow for interpreting. Echo, delay and weak connections meant that only 80% of the schedule was able to be completed, and the case was adjourned. Scenarios, such as these, have been noted as being commonplace in legal settings, where time and resources are limited.

In contrast, when the same interpreter was booked on a commercial conference interpreting assignment, professional software was in place, providing the benefit of more than one channel of interpretation – a much smoother operation.

Working with Interpreters Face-to-Face Interpreting

Registered UK interpreters have been granted key worker status during the restrictions, as their work is seen as critical to the COVID-19 response. Assignments that are involved with the justice system, police and social care are examples of this type of work.

The AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters) has provided guidelines for interpreters completing conference interpreting assignments in booths. These include limiting the number of interpreters in a booth at any one time, disinfecting contact surfaces (desk, console, keyboard, etc.) and using their own headsets or headset covers. This official body also provides advice for the successful use of remote platforms to complete assignments. However, for face to face interpreting, also referred to as community interpreting, the guidelines from this, or any other official interpreting body (NRPSI, ITI or CIOL) is severely lacking.

In the absence of any industry-specific guidelines, and with the understanding that interpreters are permitted to attend assignments for critical reasons, following the government’s own rules for social distancing would be recommended. Their guide published on working safely in offices and contact centres would be the most relevant for interpreters assisting interviews and negotiations in the legal sector. It offers coherent instructions on how to manage social distancing and work safely in this environment.

The Outlook for Interpreting in the Legal Sector

When our daily lives start to return to normal, it is likely that for high-profile meetings and events, such as crown court hearings, in-person interpreting will remain the preference. However, for smaller, more ad-hoc discussions and negotiations, now that the benefits of remote interpreting have been demonstrated, it is likely to remain a favourable option. Fees for interpreters are significantly reduced, as no travel time or expenses are incurred, and the quality of interpretation will arguably improve as, without location restrictions, a wider pool of professionals can be accessed. However, if the use of remote interpreting does increase, investing in professional remote communication software to carry out meetings more smoothly and efficiently is highly recommended.

For interpreters completing face-to-face assignments, more support and guidance from their professional bodies is needed. This assistance would not only provide interpreters with the assurance that they are delivering a service where the health and safety of all involved are prioritised but would also provide direction for their clients to ensure all necessary measures are put in place.

With extensive expertise in assisting clients in the legal sector with their language requirements, Mission Translate provides the full portfolio of services, including court interpreters, video conference interpreting, translation and transcription. Please contact us with any enquiries.

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