Elena Tomassini, Christopher Garwood, Anna Caterina Alimenti, Mette Rudvin, University of Bologna
This paper has two main strands. The first part of the paper is an overview of the current state of affairs in legal interpreting in Italy today. We will be presenting a general panorama of how court and police interpreters are recruited; on the basis of which criteria they are recruited; if and how these criteria are respected; statistical data on the interpreters (qualifications, training, ethnicity); and quality control of interpreting for the police and courts.
The situation that our paper describes is unfortunately extremely dire. Although in theory criteria for the recruitment of interpreters exist (interpreters are considered to be ‘expert witnesses’ and as such are evaluated – in theory – on the same basis as this category) recruitment policies are extremely lax, seriously jeopardizing access to justice. This is in part due to budget constraints, but also to a complete lack of awareness about the importance of and difficulties in providing adequate language services. Many of the interpreters working for the police and in the courts have absolutely no training in translation, interpreting or communication more generally. Some have qualifications in other fields (ranging from the sciences to vocational training) but many have no qualifications at all. The authors of this paper have all witnessed how the lack of language skills and interpreting skills has seriously jeopardized accuracy. The consequences of such a lax policy is potentially very harmful for the various actors (both service providers and clients), and potentially for national security.
In the second part of this paper we describe how we feel that we could contribute to improving this situation (on a small scale). We report on an on-going project inspired by a meeting with the vice chief of police of Bologna that aims to provide a series of workshops for service providers in the legal sector (lawyers, magistrates, clerks) that address the following aspects:
- A description of the current situation (most service providers know very little about the problems related to language services in their own institutions);
- Who are the interpreters? (again, most service providers know very little about the interpreters);
- The dangers of using such lax recruitment criteria – possibility of legal liability and national security risks;
- How to recruit safely (assessing qualifications and prior training; evaluation of language and interpreting competence);
- How to use interpreters properly to the best of their abilities;
- How to work with interpreters in the courtroom (interpreting techniques);
- Implementing sporadic quality tests;
- The need for a national register/ association.