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The interpreter’s story: Mirela Watson

‘A lot of the new interpreters have no understanding of legal terminology, which is vital in our profession’

Mirela Watson, 43, is a Romanian-born interpreter with 15 years’ experience of court interpreting in the UK. She is also a member of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters.

“I am extremely unhappy with the new arrangements,” she said. “ALS is supplying a lot of unqualified, unvetted interpreters – myself and my colleagues have been visiting the courts randomly to monitor ALS’s work and the standard is absolutely unacceptable, it could lead to a serious miscarriage of justice.

“I have heard a judge say, ‘You have been charged with …’ and had that interpreted as ‘You have to pay the court’ – meaning charged as in ‘pay’.

“The majority of us are thinking, if the new contract is not finished, to change our professions. I have been devoted to the court justice system for the past 15 years. We are linguists, we are not just speakers of another language.

“My husband is English, I’m Romanian by birth, my daughter has been raised bilingual – but being bilingual doesn’t make you an interpreter. A lot of the new interpreters have no understanding of legal terminology, which is vital in our profession. We have the experience behind us and it is something you cannot buy. To be forced to join a system you don’t agree with is extremely unfair.

“We were never consulted at any point. The old system worked, we had a good relationship with the police forces, with the court system, court listings officers knew where the closest interpreters lived.

“I have to review my entire life. Like most people, we have bills to pay, but this is not purely financial – we are dedicated, we love the job. You have to have a special manner to deal with court staff, which you gain by experience. To have that taken away from you, yes, it is a shock. It makes you extremely bitter.

“In the past 10 days, we have been bombarded by the listing officers, asking us to cover the gaps left by ALS, which we are not willing to do. As long as the contract is still in force, it would simply be papering over the cracks.

“The mathematics is very simple: by having ALS, the courts actually spend more money – it’s a completely false economy. It costs in excess of £769 a day for a person to be remanded in custody. We have experience of people who have been brought to custody three or four times because interpreters haven’t turned up, which translates to a lot of money.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds