Kate Waterhouse, School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin
By the early 2000s Ireland had become, for the first time, a country of net immigration. By 2006-2007 the flow of immigration was at about 100,000 per year, the third highest rate in the EU. The criminal justice system found itself dealing with increasing numbers of non-Irish nationals for many of whom English was not their first language; between 2006 and 2008 around one third of all committals to prison were non-Irish nationals, and the Courts Service went from spending €103,000 on translating and interpreting services in 2000, to €2m in 2007. Immigrants were from a diverse range of countries, speaking an estimated 167 languages.
The Irish courts system did not have the infrastructure in place to cope with the linguistic variety of defendants coming before the courts, and accounts of interpreting provision during the early years of the 2000s depict scenes of haphazard services and general mayhem, with interpreters literally scrambling for and fighting for cases as they were heard in the District Courts. In 2006 Lionbridge won the contract to become sole service provider for interpreting and translating in the courts, and a degree of control ensued. The situation remains far from satisfactory, however; there is still no regulation of services; agencies are given complete discretion with regard to recruitment, monitoring, and training; no guidelines are provided for those working with interpreters, and so on.
This paper considers Ireland’s response to the rapid rise of limited English proficient (LEP) immigrants in the courts system since the early 2000s, looking specifically at how the provision of interpreting services has developed and evolved. It will examine the consequences of contracting out the service provision of court interpreting, with a particular focus on the relationship between the organisational and administrative perspective and the impact on the right of the LEP immigrant to an interpreter. To this end it will compare official reports and accounts of provision with accounts obtained through interviews with court interpreters and legal professionals.