May 29, 2024

Barristers challenge police chiefs over need for Welsh language in interviews

The bar’s representative body has rejected calls from several chief constables, who have claimed that providing real-time translation to Welsh speakers in police stations in Wales is unreasonable and disproportionate.

Standards imposed by the Welsh Language Commissioner include a duty to provide a simultaneous translation service if an interview cannot be conducted in Welsh.

The chief constables have argued that simultaneous translation will disturb the flow of the interview, it will not comply with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and verifying that the translation is correct and of high quality would be difficult. They think consecutive translation should be provided instead.

The lord chancellor’s standing committee referred the matter to the Bar Council’s law reform committee. After consulting with criminal law colleagues, the bar rejects the chief constables’ arguments.

On the flow of the interview, the bar says:

‘Based on the knowledge of those with experience of the quality of simultaneous interpretation in international fora, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union, or even of similar services provided in Welsh language trials in Wales, it is considered that electronic interpretation via a microphone and headphones provided by a native speaker of the target language is less disruptive than consecutive translation where both the questioner and the person expected to answer have to wait for two language versions of the words used to be repeated.’

The bar acknowledges that simultaneous translation works only if the interpreters are highly skilled. They must be able to work in shifts and take frequent breaks:

‘With these caveats in mind, there is no reason to expect that this could not be replicated in the context of an interview at a police station.’

Consecutive translation ‘gives the bilingual interviewee twice the amount of time to think of an appropriate answer. This could, potentially, be more disruptive of the flow of a police officer’s line of questioning’, the bar warns.

Also, the lack of available simultaneous translators in the current translation service is not a good enough reason to justify consecutive translation, the bar says, as the translation service for in-court interpretation could be extended to police interviews.

This matter was first reported by the Law Society Gazette