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‘Remote’ interpreting in legal context

Giovanna Fassetta interviews Sarah Craig about her project on Bail hearings and experiences with 'remote' interpreting in legal contexts.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: Thank you for coming here to speak to us about the Bail Observation Project. I’ll let you introduce yourself.
SARAH CRAIG: I’m Sarah Craig. I’m a Senior Lecturer in Public Law in the Law School here at Glasgow University. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: OK. And so we’re going to talk about the Bail Observation Project, which was a project that you ran approximately when?
SARAH CRAIG: About three years ago now, yeah. So yeah. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: About three years ago. And for the people who might not be familiar, so for an audience that’s not a specialist, could you tell us a little bit just about the Bail– what Bail is?
SARAH CRAIG: What bail is. Yeah, OK. Bail is being released from detention. So people apply for bail when they are in immigration detention, in that we were particularly looking at immigration detention in Scotland. So they’re in immigration detention, and bail is the process by which they are released. And they can initially apply to the home office for bail. But if they’re refused, they can then apply to the tribunal, which is an independent court-like body for bail. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: OK. And so what did the Bail Observation Project set out to do?
SARAH CRAIG: It set out to observe bail hearings. So when their application arrives at the court, the court then sets up a hearing. And the project wanted to observe bail hearings. And we wanted to observe what happens when the individual makes their application, and what happens in the court, and what– the numbers that were granted bail, and what circumstances they were granted bail, or not. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: Mhm, OK. And did you observe anything– but specifically, in relation– because this course is about interpreting. So did you observe anything specifically, in relation to interpreting, in this situation?
SARAH CRAIG: In this situation? The unusual thing in this situation is that the detainee, the person who’s in immigration detention, very often is in the detention centre during the procedure. So they take part in the process by video link. DR.
SARAH CRAIG: So that means that the other participants in the hearing, the judge, the representative, and also the interpreter, is in the hearing room in Glasgow. But the individual applying for bail is usually in the removal centre. Sometimes, another holding facility. And they are not in the room with the interpreter. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: So how does the bail happen? Is it via Skype?
SARAH CRAIG: It is similar to Skype. The video link equipment has been in the tribunal for a long time, and it’s actually being extended to be used in other types of hearing now. It’s part of the digitization of courts. But certainly, when we looked, it was unusual for video link to be used. And yeah, it’s similar to Skype, but not Skype itself. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: And in relation to interpreting, I guess, the quality of the audio– actually, what did your– was there always an interpreter there? Was the quality of the audio acceptable? How did you feel that it went, in relation to the language?
SARAH CRAIG: Yeah. I mean, it was overall quite problematic in relation to the language, for a number of reasons. There was certainly not always an interpreter there. It would rely on the individual asking for one. And so that relied on the individual knowing that they could get an interpreter. And if the interpreter was there, the quality varied hugely, as it often does, depending on what the interpreter is like. And also, the quality of the video link could be quite poor. At times, we observed that the video link went down.
There were times when the communication had actually ceased with the applicant, but the hearing still seemed to sometimes go on, even though the person– there was nobody, apparently, on the other end. Sometimes the communication was very poor. Some signs were the amplified– like, the rustling of papers. Sometimes, things like the individual crying at the other end, you’re aware of them being upset. And sometimes that wasn’t even observed– commented on, the fact that they were upset. And to go back to the interpreting points, it was quite common for parts of the proceedings not to be interpreted. That only part of the proceedings would be translated. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: OK. So not everything was translate like?
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: OK, OK. And you compiled the report after your bail hearing?
SARAH CRAIG: Yeah. The reason we did the report was partly in relation to this issue of who’s participating the most in the hearing. And I should explain that the hearing should be presuming liberty. That’s a basic right. But it’s also thinking about any risks associated with liberty versus detention. And what we observed was that very often, the risks that the court was thinking about were the risks associated with, perhaps, a person absconding, not complying with any conditions that might apply to the bail. And that tended to become the focus of the court. And what that meant was that any supporter that the individual has was often the focus of attention, rather than the person in detention themself.
And we find that very problematic. And we could see that there was potentially a role for the interpreter to be more involved, from that point of view. So perhaps in relation to the detention centre, it would clearly be better if the interpreter was at the detention centre with the individual, from what we could see. DR.
SARAH CRAIG: I mean, there may be problems for the court in relation to that, but we felt that perhaps the interpreter could be at the detention centre. But we also thought that there were situations where the supporter, who might be a family member, sometimes called a “sure-see,” sometimes called a “vacationer,” a family member who might be putting up a bail address or a friend, often, the focus was on them in the court. And their participation became quite important as well. So the guide– you asked me about the guide. The guide who produced this was focused quite a lot on the support and telling them how to help the detainee. DR.
SARAH CRAIG: I’m sorry, sometimes– the point was that sometimes the supporter also needed an interpreter. And often, that hadn’t been thought about. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: Uh-huh. And in this case, I guess, there was one interpreter doing the job for both?
SARAH CRAIG: Exactly. Well, and you could argue that the interpreter was doing the job for three bodies. Was doing the job for the applicant, was doing the job for the supporter, but also for the court. DR.
SARAH CRAIG: What the applicant is– in the room, there’s a screen. And what the applicant sees isn’t necessarily actually the whole room. Sometimes, they don’t see their friends and supporters very well. They can usually see the judge and the whole office representative, and their own representative and the interpreter, if there is one. But sometimes they don’t see the whole room. DR.
SARAH CRAIG: And yes, we wanted that to be represented. We wanted people to be able to see that that’s what bail is. DR.
GIOVANNA FASSETTA: OK, that’s very useful. OK. Well, thank you very much for talking to us about this very interesting project, and for being here with us.
SARAH CRAIG: Oh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome. Thank you for asking me.

Having watched the video, let us know:

  • Was there anything that surprised you in the findings of the Bail Observation Project that Dr Sarah Craig illustrates?

  • Do you know of similar circumstances where interpreting happens online? What are the challenges?

More information on the project discussed by Dr Sarah Craig can be found on the Bail Observation Project website.

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