How Are Legal Sector Interpreting Services Working During The Pandemic?

Challenging Circumstances for Remote-Based Interpreters

The difficulties of interpreting during remote-based hearings. How can the legal sector step up and support smoother interpretations?

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the legal sector in a significant way, with the MoJ and HMCTS both consolidating their work into fewer courts and tribunals to safeguard public health. Remote hearings have been adopted as an alternative to attending court in person, and entire law firms and Chambers have switched to remote working models. As some jury trials have been postponed and prioritisation is given to CPS, terrorism and police work, it’s fair to say that the justice system has been impacted like never before. Whilst technology solutions have become a popular option for remote hearings, due to their advanced video teleconferencing capabilities, interpreting challenges have been less easy to solve for those that require them.

Face to Face Interpretation

As the priority court and tribunal system is still operational at the beginning of July 2020, this means that the HMCTS and the judiciary will aim to maintain a core justice system focused only on the essential cases at this time. Some courts are open, and will write to witnesses or defendants asking them to travel in to provide evidence. However, depending on the setup of the court, it is not advised that interpreters need to be in attendance. Those that do go in, should not sit next to the necessary parties. Rather, interpreters are encouraged to complete their work remotely via video link. It’s worth noting that regular audio or interview transcription work can be completed as usual so that a copy of the proceedings will be available following the hearing.

Remote Technology

Since the pandemic began, the justice system has favoured the use of technology including Skype for Business, BT MeetMe or Cloud Video Platform as the best options for remote hearings. Interpreters have expressed frustration at the difficulties of carrying out their work using these platforms. A recent two-day remote UK Family Court assignment used the Skype for Business program which was reportedly entirely unsuitable for interpretation tasks. Only 80% of the schedule was able to be completed due to problems with the connection being weak, including echoes and delays which made interpretation a difficult job. Unfortunately, this example has been typical of the situation in remote hearings during the pandemic. In contrast, where professional interpreting software is in place, this allows for multi-channel translation which is easier and more convenient for the purpose.

Face to Face Interpretations

Registered UK interpreters are seen as vital to the work carried by the police and justice system, so they have been granted with key worker status during the pandemic. Where interpreters are required to carry out their work face-to-face, in booths, these must be maintained following the necessary social distancing and hygiene regulations to safeguard public health. Interpreters should provide their own head sets and contact surfaces including desks, keyboards or consoles must be thoroughly disinfected following use.

As the pandemic continues, the legal sector should work to provide interpreters, and those who require their services, with the extra assistance they need to ensure that effective, but safe translation takes place.

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