TT Features: Ros Wright CBE QC on Court Interpreting and Fraud Prevention in the UK

Even if they tend to remain invisible, people like Ros Wright give cause for everyone in the country to be grateful. Except, perhaps, if you’re a professional fraudster. Having been a leading light in the Serious Fraud Office’s fight against all manner of high-level swindles and scams both at home and abroad, she was for many years the Chairman of the Fraud Advisory Panel, where our own resident expert David Clarke is a committee member. Furthermore, she worked on the supervisory board of Olaf, the European Union’s anti-fraud agency.

However, her interests and undertakings do not stop there; she is also a panel member on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NPRSI) , which is the UK’s independent regulator of interpreters specialising in public services – in particular, for court interpreting, the provision of which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years.

Ros was kind enough to share her wisdom on both topics with Today Translations.

The UK’s court interpreting services have notoriously been in the headlines in recent years – an issue that affects many people. How would you assess the overall state of court and public sector interpreting today? Has it improved?

From my perspective as a member of the disciplinary panel of NRPSI and not actively involved in litigation now, it is difficult for me to judge; but anecdotally, and from what I read in the papers there is still much criticism coming from judges and other court users over the standard of court interpreting and the efficiency of supply of appropriately qualified interpreters to the courts; the principal problems in relation to court and public sector interpreting are (i)that there are too few recognised and properly qualified interpreters being used by the court service and by the police and (ii) that the demand for interpreters in the public service has increased enormously over the last few years, over a very wide range of languages, both common and rare. And of course an exclusive contract to a single supplier for the provision of interpreters for the courts and tribunal service is an obvious limitation on quality of interpretation services. Only a tiny proportion of interpreters working in the public sector are registered with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). NRPSI ensures that the highest standards of interpreting are maintained and performs a regulatory role in relation to its registrants, thus protecting the public and the service users. It is only by insisting on registration and regulation of every public service interpreter, whether freelance or employed through an agency that the courts and tribunal service and its users as well as the interests of the public at large can be assured that the interpretation of proceedings at court, at police stations and in the health arena is being provided by highly qualified professionals, working to the highest standard of interpreting skills and personal integrity.

Do you find there to be an undersupply of qualified public sector interpreters in the UK? If so, how can we encourage more people to fill this skills gap?

There is a glaring undersupply of qualified public service interpreters in England and Wales. As I said before, demand has increased hugely and there is a dearth of well-qualified interpreters.

While the UK education system does not encourage the teaching of foreign languages in schools, we will have to rely increasingly on overseas-qualified linguists whose ability in speaking and understanding their mother tongue may be fine, but whose English and interpreting skills generally may not be up to the required standard. Court and public service interpreting is a very specialised skill and must be taught as such; quality control is very important to maintain an excellent level of interpretation. The pay for qualified interpreters through the sole agency with an MoJ contract, is not such as to encourage good linguists to take on assignments in the public service; they must supplement their earnings by taking on commercial interpreting or translating work, or teaching or lecturing.

What do you think constitutes a good interpreter, particularly one specialising in the legal sector?

Excellent language skills in mother tongue and English; professional training in interpreting, especially for the legal sector; recognised interpreting qualifications in the language(s) they are offering and, of course, total integrity. NRPSI registration is an excellent indicator that the interpreter meets all those criteria.

What advice would you give to someone looking to become a professional interpreter? How can they build up their experience?

Obtain the qualifications necessary to become registered with NRPSI! [The second part of the question is beyond my competence!]

People rarely think of fraud until it happens to them or someone they know – how prevalent is fraud in Britain today?

Fraud is on the increase and hits individuals and businesses at every level. The exact extent of fraud in the UK today is an unknown quantity, largely because so much fraud goes unreported to the authorities. The most common forms of fraud seen now are perpetrated through the internet (“cyberfraud”). What used to be called “confidence tricksters” are now using sophisticated ways of deceiving huge numbers of people using e-communications and because of the nature of internet business, are very hard to trace. Money can be moved instantly and many people do not realise they have been defrauded until it is too late to prevent it.

What are the basic steps an individual or business can take to mitigate the risk of falling victim to fraud? Are there any additional steps to be mindful of when dealing with foreign entities across different languages?

The old saying “If a thing looks too good to be true, it usually is”, is borne out by the numbers of people and businesses falling victim to plausible sales pitches – whether for “investment opportunities” or even offers of internet dating. The best advice is, if in doubt, don’t. Reputable firms don’t cold-call with tempting offers to make you rich overnight; companies you’ve never heard of, offering you the chance to make a fortune with no risk to you should be avoided at all costs. Investment firms which appear to be based outside the UK and are not registered with the UK financial services regulator, the FCA are not safe and there is no fall-back if they go bust or you fail to receive any dividends or your money back if you request it. Tell-tale signs of dubious outfits from outside the UK include those whose websites have grammatical, spelling or language errors.

What role can linguists play in countering fraud and exposing companies that filter money through London?

An experienced linguist can tell almost immediately whether the wording on a website in the language in which they are proficient, looks authentic or not. They have the experience and expertise to recognise flaws in the language and the phraseology used and can advise their client to avoid any that look suspicious. Many criminal gangs based outside the UK use the enviable reputation of the British financial services and banking sectors to cloak the proceeds of their crimes and attempt to launder funds through UK companies and professionals, such as solicitors and accountants. Companies and professionals in the UK who are approached by new clients from overseas seeking to use their services would be well advised to engage a qualified linguist to attend meetings with them. They will be able to interpret the conversation and translate any business documents proffered. It is important to resist the temptation to be polite and try and conduct transactions with new, foreign clients who speak passable English and offer documentation in an unfamiliar language; an experienced linguist will require them to speak their mother tongue and be able to identify any questionable phrase or unusual business record.

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