Lost in Translation

It has recently been revealed that court translators are costing the British tax payer £60,000 a day. Such services were privatised in 2012 and the Ministry of Justice has said that this privatisation has enabled them to save £38million to date. However, a recent talking point on LBC radio posed the question, why do we bother employing the services of translators at all?

The point was made that no one is forced to come to Britain from overseas, and no one is prohibited from learning English, so why is it British people who must pay the costs of translation for those who have never done so?

I would have thought the answer to this is simple. It is because we are not monsters. Some countries, such as Italy, Saudi Arabia, and India, were built primarily upon religious values. Others, such as the United States, China, and Israel, were built primarily upon a philosophical ideal. Britain was built, above all else, upon an ever evolving system of law. Law is at the heart of our culture and one of the principles which that law has grown to be reliant upon is that it will be accessible to all. This has always been the case in theory but, over the last century, the theory has been heavily consolidated into practice.

In regards to language, first Latin was replaced as the formal language of British law by English and then it was decided that legal English should make way for plain English so that the law would become an accessible field for the general population. Case law has long since established that judges are duty bound to give reasonable assistance to those who represent themselves too and the idea that justice should be something which is equally available to everyone in society is a value which the judiciary go to great lengths to defend even as MPs seek to crush it through such acts as the restriction of legal aid.

There is an important fact that needs to be remembered when considering the importance of translators in court and that is that some people are found not guilty. Not only that, some of the people who are found not guilty are foreign. And some of the foreign people who are found not guilty don’t even speak English. Just because someone cannot understand the language of the court, that does not mean they automatically deserve to be found guilty and thrown into the nearest dungeon.

The aim of justice should be to convict only the right people, and all of the right people. Nothing less. Without the use of interpreters those people who are unable to speak English would not be able to understand the case against them and to put forward a defence. Innocent people would inevitably be convicted as the jury hears only half of the story, and not a half which would ever be told by an impartial independent but the half told by a prosecutor employed to obtain a conviction at almost any cost.

And if there is anyone out there who thinks for a moment that they don’t care if the odd innocent foreigner gets locked up, perhaps because they think there are too many over here, then there is one thing which should change their mind without a moment’s argument: We should never accept miscarriages of justice because when innocent people are convicted, guilty people often walk free.

So British taxes pay £60,000 a day in court translation costs. I’d frame it a different way. I’d say that each tax payer pays just 30p a year towards ensuring that those who are sent to prison are guilty of a crime and not just of being foreign.

4 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. Not really anything called British Law, Scotland has always had its own legal system and still does. Other than that agree with main points…

    • Quite right, Scottish law has indeed always been separate, but what I meant by British law is the law which was formed in (and applied in) England and Wales collectively – which is often based on statutes laid down in the British parliament.

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