Annex B Interpreters Postal Survey
The main interpreting agencies used by the Fiscal Service were contacted initially and asked for their co-operation in sending out a questionnaire to their members. Questionnaires were then sent directly to those agencies that responded and were distributed to individual interpreters from there. Subsequently, a total of 50 questionnaires were returned to the Inspectorate. Hence it is not possible to say with absolute accuracy what this represents in terms of response rate; to give an indication, the total number of questionnaires sent to agencies was 105.
Information on ethnic background was not collected as was not required in this context. Given that the survey was intended for completion by all interpreters employed by the various agencies, including some requested by services other than COPFS (for example, the court or by the police), information relating to Fiscal performance exclusively is unfortunately very limited. Many interpreters made references indicating that they were referring to, and commenting on assignments organised by the Scottish Court Service or by the Police.
However, a number of interesting findings emerged, relating to the experience of interpreting at court and indeed to interpreting generally. The main findings are presented here.
Interpreters were asked in which language(s) they interpreted. There were a wide variety of languages indicated and many respondents interpreted in more than one language. While there were 26 distinct languages indicated, some of the most often mentioned were Cantonese (10 per cent), Kurdish Sorani (8 per cent), Dutch (8 per cent), Albanian, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu (all 6 per cent).
Figure 1 shows the distribution of responses, in percentage terms, relating to frequency of breaks that are given, while interpreting at court.
Good practice suggests that breaks should be given, or at least offered, after approximately every 30 minutes. Even allowing for breaks up to one hour as being acceptable it is clear that the majority (52 per cent) indicated that the breaks they received were much less frequent than this. In fact, some were not offered breaks at all.
Note that 23 per cent respondents indicated that they received no breaks, but that breaks were not actually needed. Generally, it was indicated that this was because of the length of time involved in interpreting (usually between 30 minutes and 1 hour, although on one occasion longer).
How often do you get breaks when interpreting?
However, it appears that not all of those receiving breaks less frequently than is recommended by good practice actually felt that they required one within that limit. A further question asked if the breaks received were adequate. Over half of respondents (58 per cent) indicated that the breaks they received were either always or mostly adequate with another 11 per cent indicating that breaks given were adequate sometimes. However, 31 per cent of respondents indicated that the breaks they were given (or not, as the case may be) were mostly not, or never, adequate.
In relation to those who indicated that the breaks given were not adequate, a further question was asked about whether this caused problems for them. Where respondents indicated either yes or sometimes (71 per cent), the main difficulty reported was a loss of concentration when having to interpret for long periods of time and related difficulties following on from that - loss of confidence, slower speed of interpreting and so on.
The provision of breaks for the interpreter in court is, of course, a matter for the court (see Recommendation 4 in Chapter 3).
Interpreters were also asked whether they ever felt they were unsuitable for an assignment, for whatever reason. Figure 2 below shows the responses received, in percentage terms.
Do you ever feel you are not suitable for an assignment you are given?
While 86 per cent of responses fall into either the 'mostly not' or 'never' categories, 14 per cent of respondents indicated that sometimes they did feel unsuitable for a given assignment. Note, though, that no replies fell into the 'mostly yes' or 'always' categories.
In an attempt to gauge interpreters' overall level of satisfaction with court as a working environment, an open-ended question was included in the questionnaire, prompting respondents for a general description of their impression and/or experience of being an interpreter at court. This yielded some very interesting feedback. The responses, which were categorized as ranging from very positive to very negative are presented as percentages in Figure 3.
How would you describe your overall experience of being an interpreter at court?
A reassuring number of respondents answered positively - 63 per cent indicated that their overall experience was either positive or very positive. However, a small proportion of respondents felt that their experience generally was negative or very negative (11 per cent) and a further 24 per cent felt it was both a positive and negative experience.
Particularly interesting feedback was obtained via the comments received in relation to the general question posed. Some common themes emerged (many of which were similarly drawn from the face to face interviews conducted with interpreters - the exception is point 5 below):
- Audibility of speakers in the court is often poor;
- All parties in court should be trained in the use of interpreters;
- The need for a separate waiting area for interpreters;
- Cancellations not compensated for;
- Lack of information about cases before assignments is a problem.