Use of Interpreters in Criminal Cases

Right to an Interpreter under the Disability Discrimination Act

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 reasonable adjustments must be made to prevent disabled individuals in a criminal trial receiving a lower level of service compared to those individuals who are not disabled.

When may an interpreter need to be used?

Interpreters will need to be used if an individual involved in a criminal trial, whether this is the defendant or witness, when that individual has one of the following:

  • Difficulty understanding or expressing themselves in English – specific attention must be paid to difficulties understanding formal legal language
  • A hearing or speech impediment, or is deaf

If an individual is a foreign language speaker the following issues must be dealt with:

  • It must be ascertained what the preferred language of the individual is
  • It must be checked as to whether there is any regional variation in the language spoken

What is the situation if the individual involved is deaf?

If the defendant, suspect or witness is deaf it must be ascertained as to what is their preferred means of communication. It must be understood as to whether the individual prefers to use sign language or lip read.

Where are the interpreters selected from?

Interpreters must be selected from one of the two following bodies:

  • The National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI)
  • The signature Directory

Will an interpreter have to be put in place before the trial stage of the criminal case?

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984 the police have a legal duty to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place for the provision of suitably qualified and independent interpreter at the police station for an individual who is deaf or for an individual who does not understand English.

Does the solicitor representing the client have a role to play?

It is the responsibility of the solicitor representing the client to ensure that the client’s interpretation needs are met.

Which parties must ensure the use of an interpreter during the court proceedings?

During a criminal trial an interpreter must be used, where required, for the following individuals:

  • The defence witnesses
  • The prosecution witnesses
  • The defendant

The defence witnesses

It is the responsibility of the legal team representing the defence to ensure that appropriate interpreters are in place for defence witnesses.

The prosecution witnesses

It is the responsibility of the Crown Prosecution Service the other prosecuting body to arrange and pay the interpreters for all witnesses to be used by the prosecution.

The defendant

The responsibilities for arranging interpreters were required for defendants in court proceedings must be done in line with the following:

  • For a defendant who is charged with an offence and who first appears in court within two working days of charge and who requires an interpreter must have this arranged by the police or another prosecuting agency
  • For a defendant in all other circumstances an interpreter must be arranged by the court whether this is the Magistrates’ Court, Crown Court or Court of Appeal
  • For a defendant in cases involving youths the Youth Court or other court this must also be arranged by the court

How will the court become aware of the requirement for an interpreter for the defendant?

It is the duty of the police to inform the court concerning the requirement for an interpreter for a specific defendant. However, it may become necessary for the defence team to inform the court in either of the following circumstances:

  • Following the defendants release from the police station
  • After the case has been committed, transferred or sent for trial

Can a defendant have the same interpreter during the trial as they had pre-trial?

In most cases where possible the interpreter used in court should be different to the interpreter which was used in the interview stage in the police station. The reason for this is in case a dispute arises over the interpretation of the police interview.

However, the final decision on which interpreter will be used rests with the court.