Thursday, 3 July 2014

Lost in Translation

The current chaos over court translators has been going on for some years. As with any privatised service, you tend to get what you pay for. Pay peanuts.... you know the rest.

Years ago, I was once involved as an expert witness in a criminal case over the use of an alleged false travel document. The official Albanian translator's English was abysmal and during my evidence I pointed this out to the judge. The translator had mistranslated so many key pieces of evidence that the jury had to be discharged and the whole case re-run. Hardly evidence of cost-savings via outsourcing.

Years later, I found myself sharing a B-cat prison cell with a Pole who spoke virtually no English. We communicated through the one mutual language we shared and this was secondary school-level Russian. He genuinely had no idea that he had been given an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) - effectively a life sentence. Because the standard of translation in his case was so poor, he had little idea what offences he was actually pleading guilty to (GBH arising from a drunken street fight with other Poles). It wasn't his first violent offence, hence the IPP sentence.

He also believed his minimum tariff of 18 months would be his release date. When he finally received his sentence in writing and discovered it was actually 99 years (standard for all IPPs), my cell-mate was so shattered and, convinced that would never see his wife and kids back in Poland again, he spent a week trying to persuade me to help him commit suicide. I did my best to persuade him that this wasn't the best solution to his problems and eventually he just sank into the usual depression that tends to go with the realisation of what a long sentence really means.

In the end he was fortunate that he was an EU citizen as he was automatically deported back to Poland at the end of his 18 month tariff, thus saving the tax-payer £40,000 per year. Had he been British, on the other hand, he would probably still be in prison for the foreseeable future.

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