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A Freedom of Information request in the U.K. has recently revealed that the cost of court translators has nearly doubled over the past year.

The cost to taxpayers for interpreters serving in magistrate and Crown courts has soared from £7.9 million in 2012 to £15.5 million last year. The precipitous rise has come since translation services were shifted from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) to Applied Language Solutions, which has since been bought by Capita Translation and Interpreting.

court translation

The loss to taxpayers has been accompanied by hold-ups in the judicial system. Lady Butler-Sloss, a retired judge, told the House of Lords last July of a “disruption and delay to criminal trials as a result of serious inaccuracies of court interpreting.” Such inaccuracies include a man being accused of being a “pervert” rather than “perverting the course of justice,” and a Romanian interpreter mistakenly telling the court that a victim had been “bitten” rather than “beaten.”

Hiroshi Matsumoto, CSOFT’s lead Japanese linguist, was quoted in a 2013 Simply CSOFT post:

“Good translators need to be people who can handle high-pressure situations, and they should also be trained as localization experts. That is, they should be linguists who understand their target audience, are experts of the subject-matter they are working with, and are producers of high-quality translations.”

In the U.K. courts, the situation could hardly be higher-pressure; interpreters are tasked with making on-the-spot translations that could affect the course of someone’s life. In such critical cases, it’s important that they have an intimate understanding not only of both English and their target language but of the nuances of the British legal system and the cultural sensitivities of all parties involved.

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“The translation process is like manufacturing,” said Tina Tang, a Business Development Manager at CSOFT International. “There need to be very specific standards that guarantee quality. Those standards need to begin with hiring professionally-trained linguists and continue with continuous QA and training.”

It has been reported that there were 10,000 complaints against Capita TI in the first 18 months since signing their monopoly-granting contract with the Ministry of Justice. A MoJ source, in an admirable display of British understatement, said, “During the first year of the project a lot of things weren’t running brilliantly,” but, he went on to claim, “Since then the whole system has been sorted out.”

The taxpayers of Britain, with 138,000 citizens who speak no English and 11,000 Non-English speakers in prison, have 15,500,000 reasons to hope that he’s right.

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