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Interpreting for children - do you change your approach?
Thread poster: xxxStrastran
xxxStrastran
France
Local time: 14:36
French to English
+ ...
Dec 1, 2008

Hi everyone

In the past few months I have had two assignments involving police interviews where the subject of the interviews were children.

One of these involved a very inexperienced, recently-qualified and 20-year-old police officer interviewing a tiny ten year old girl accompanied by her father. The officer read out her rights and other legal information at breakneck speed and generally had no idea how to speak to children. She phrased every question as if speaking to an adult.

To begin with I remained entirely professional and neutral and approached the assignment as I would any other, with the slight modification of using the familiar form of address for young children. However, despite being encouraged by her father the girl simply met each question with wide-eyed silence - a mixture of fear and incomprehension, I believe. The police officer gave absolutely no reaction to this, made no effort to rephrase her questions or put the child at ease - despite my glaring at her in an attempt to hint that something needed to be done - and the child was still refusing to speak.

Remember that this interview was being recorded as evidence!

The child did not understand why I was using the first person - as far as she was concerned, I was just another policeman. So for me to say 'I want to ask you this...' was utterly confusing for her.

Moreover, she did not understand 'you do not have to say anything...etc.' yet I felt unable to rephrase it without at least obtaining permission. Also, her father was speaking quietly into my ear, telling me to explain the legal procedure to her in simple terms - which, again, I did not feel I should do on my own decision. This pressure from both sides was very tricky to manage, especially with the tape running.

Eventually I made a professional decision and deliberately 'stepped out' of my role, telling her not to be scared, that the lady simply wanted to ask her a few questions and that she should try her best to tell the truth. I abandoned the use of the first person as it was counter-productive.

The child then nodded and asked to be able to speak her native, local language (as opposed to French, which I intepret). She then answered the questions in that language, with her father interpreting into French and me into English for the police officer. Everyone was happy with this arrangement and I explained it fully for the recording.

I just wondered what people's views are on this situation? Should I have done what I did? After all, I am now on tape pushing the limits of my professional boundaries (though for reasons relating to the case the tape is unlikely ever to be listened to, fortunately). Should I have remained invisible and let the police officer deal with the situation, no matter what? Should we always use the first person, even for a small child who does not understand who 'I' is?



[Edited at 2008-12-01 14:20 GMT]


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Najwa Al-Nabulsi
Syria
Local time: 15:36
English to Arabic
+ ...
yes, you should change your approach Dec 1, 2008

Hi,

yes dear, surely you should change your approach and thank you that you did!

as adult we we face hard situation if were in her place, imagin a child facing policeman who act exactly as if he was a legal machine, terrible in deed! this policewoman or man, no difference, should be educated and learn how to treat with children even if they were criminal.

you did a great job, thank you
Najwa


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MMFORREST  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:36
Romanian to English
+ ...
Yes, you did very well, Patrick! Dec 1, 2008

It wasn't easy and you were sensible to adapt to the circumstances and use your own discretion, as we are advised. After all we are not robots, no matter how neutral we need to be in our role.

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Amy Duncan  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 09:36
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Patrick, my hero :o) Dec 1, 2008

You did the right thing, and the loving thing.

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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:36
French to English
Just wondering.... Dec 2, 2008

It sounds to me, speaking as a layman, that you did the right thing, i.e. the human thing, under the circs.

Maybe you already have, but I would certainly report it to someone, if only to ensure that in future they find an interpreter who speaks the "local language" in question. This particular evidence may or may not ever be used, but if I were the "other side" in the case and the child's evidence was not what I wanted to hear, I would certainly challenge it on the grounds that the father was effectively interpreting for the child and could not possibly be considered neutral. OK, so that might not be relevant here, but next time they get a speaker of this language in for interview, it might be.


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QUOI  Identity Verified

Chinese to English
+ ...
Did it occur to you that… Dec 2, 2008

the child might be exercising her right to silence?

Patrick Stenson wrote:
... the girl simply met each question with wide-eyed silence... and the child was still refusing to speak.


Seriously though, it is always difficult when the interpreter is the only person who understands the problem. However, you were not there to assist the police or the alleged offender or the investigation process other than facilitating communication. When you told the child that "she should try her best to tell the truth", you were giving advice and it was a wrong advice. The child was not obliged to tell police anything, let alone the truth or trying her best to do that. It was the child's right not to assist the police.

Yes, you should have remained invisible and let the police deal with it. Eventually there would be a point that the police officer simply couldn't carry on the interview any more.


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xxxStrastran
France
Local time: 14:36
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good point! Dec 2, 2008

Charlie Bavington wrote:
Maybe you already have, but I would certainly report it to someone, if only to ensure that in future they find an interpreter who speaks the "local language" in question.



Unfortunately, I've been told that there is only one DPSI-qualified interpreter in this language in the whole of England! I don't know how accurate this is but it wouldn't surprise me.

Charlie Bavington wrote:
This particular evidence may or may not ever be used, but if I were the "other side" in the case and the child's evidence was not what I wanted to hear, I would certainly challenge it on the grounds that the father was effectively interpreting for the child and could not possibly be considered neutral. OK, so that might not be relevant here, but next time they get a speaker of this language in for interview, it might be.


Very good point which I hadn't really thought of, thanks.


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xxxStrastran
France
Local time: 14:36
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
clarification Dec 2, 2008

... at large wrote:

the child might be exercising her right to silence?


honestly, no it didn't! I am still not sure how well she understood French at all, really.


... at large wrote:
When you told the child that "she should try her best to tell the truth", you were giving advice and it was a wrong advice. The child was not obliged to tell police anything, let alone the truth or trying her best to do that. It was the child's right not to assist the police.


I should clarify here: when I said 'just try your best to tell the truth', this was after interpreting the legal jargon ('you do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence....etc.') for her four times.

I believe,it is a requirement for the officer to ask 'do you understand?' and the person to reply 'yes' before the interview can continue, but this was met with silence each time.

The police officer then requested me to explain to the child what it meant in simple terms. Hence: 'don't be scared, the lady wants to ask a few questions, you don't have to answer them but if you do you should just try your best to tell the truth'.

Also, the father by then was saying in English 'yes, she understands, I understand too'.

... at large wrote:
Yes, you should have remained invisible and let the police deal with it. Eventually there would be a point that the police officer simply couldn't carry on the interview any more.


Yes, that's a fair point.


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:36
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Dec 5, 2008

Charlie Bavington wrote:

It sounds to me, speaking as a layman, that you did the right thing, i.e. the human thing, under the circs.

Maybe you already have, but I would certainly report it to someone, if only to ensure that in future they find an interpreter who speaks the "local language" in question. This particular evidence may or may not ever be used, but if I were the "other side" in the case and the child's evidence was not what I wanted to hear, I would certainly challenge it on the grounds that the father was effectively interpreting for the child and could not possibly be considered neutral. OK, so that might not be relevant here, but next time they get a speaker of this language in for interview, it might be.

Well, yep, you were speaking as a layman.

According to the Codes of Practice under the above Act,
11.17 If an appropriate adult* is present at an interview, they shall be informed:
a/ they are NOT expected to act simply as an observer; and
b/ the purpose of their presence is to:
- advise the person being interviewed;
- observe whether the interview is conducted properly and fairly;
- facilitate communicating with the person being interviewed.
* 1B A person, including a parent or guardian should not be an appropriate adult if they are:
- suspected of involvement in the offence
- the victim
- involved in the investigation... etc.

Dear Patrick, you did the best you could do under the circumstances.

However, some preparation may be useful in such cases. Before the interview, you can say to the interviewing officer something along these lines:

I wonder how do you conduct an interview with such a young child. Do you think she will understand the caution, and all of the questions? And the role of the interpreter? Would you give her an explanation, if she gets confused when I use the first person? I am surprised that the father did not ask for legal advice when it was explained to them that it was free.

I am sure, the purpose of cautious questions like these are perfectly clear to you; they hopefully induce the officer to think about the issues, and perhaps work them out under the pretence of elaborating them to you. Or excuse herself for a few moments, and rush to a senior officer for advice.

Even in perfectly straightforward circumstances I always ask permission from the officer before the interview to tell the following to the interviewee: keep it in mind that everything anybody says will be interpreted; refrain from speaking in English if possible, (they sometimes try, and it doesn't help); do not try to say everything in one go, but stop after a couple of sentences and wait for the translation then continue, there will be time to explain everything, and ask for clarification if something is not clear.

Returning to the case you were talking about, undoubtedly it was not handled well. The officer may have known that ultimately it was not a very significant issue, and perhaps she rushed it. But she would have had to report about the interview to her senior officer and probably to the CPS as well, therefore they may have asked questions which would have made her realise her mistakes.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:36
French to English
Interesting stuff Dec 5, 2008

So, when interpreting, if you think the Act is being broken or contravened in some way, are you supposed to speak out?
I can see the value in knowing that stuff - but are you supposed to apply that knowledge? Or are you literally just the interpreter?

For instance, if you knew but the police didn't (e.g. because you could understand the conversation) that the father should not be an appropriate adult owing to also being a witness (say - imagine the police had yet to discover that fact; or even because you heard the kid confess to her dad that she'd done it), should you intervene to save time and to save the police collecting "evidence" that might later prove inadmissible (e.g. when I, as a master criminal, get my QC on the case)?

If you know something that the police don't, relevant to the case, and you don't tell them, that too is an offence, is it not?
Honestly, just wondering....


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xxxStrastran
France
Local time: 14:36
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your post Dec 5, 2008

Thanks a lot juvera, this is all very interesting stuff!

juvera wrote:

According to the Codes of Practice under the above Act,
11.17 If an appropriate adult* is present at an interview, they shall be informed:
a/ they are NOT expected to act simply as an observer; and
b/ the purpose of their presence is to:
- advise the person being interviewed;
- observe whether the interview is conducted properly and fairly;
- facilitate communicating with the person being interviewed.


The father in this case did all of the above but was not informed of any of it beforehand by the police. He was a very stern father who was very angry with his daughters, so was entirely on the police's side and simply waved a 'yes' whenever he was asked to confirm that things were ok to proceed.

juvera wrote:
Dear Patrick, you did the best you could do under the circumstances.

However, some preparation may be useful in such cases. Before the interview, you can say to the interviewing officer something along these lines:

I wonder how do you conduct an interview with such a young child. Do you think she will understand the caution, and all of the questions? And the role of the interpreter? Would you give her an explanation, if she gets confused when I use the first person? I am surprised that the father did not ask for legal advice when it was explained to them that it was free.

I am sure, the purpose of cautious questions like these are perfectly clear to you; they hopefully induce the officer to think about the issues, and perhaps work them out under the pretence of elaborating them to you. Or excuse herself for a few moments, and rush to a senior officer for advice.


This is very useful and I'll certainly note it for the future. After this interview the girl's elder sister (13) was to be interviewed, so given how the first had progressed I explained to the officer that more clarification was needed to ensure that the girl would understand, especially where legal aspects are concerned. The officer seemed to get what I was saying and said that after reading the standard legal text she would then explain it in simple terms for the girl.

Then, with the interview started and the tape running she completely forgot and did exactly the same as before, despite my nodding my head at her! I think she was so recently-qualified the officer was very nervous and flustered and simply forgot what we had arranged.

Luckily the elder girl was a lot more forthcoming with speaking and the after that the interview was ok.

juvera wrote:
Even in perfectly straightforward circumstances I always ask permission from the officer before the interview to tell the following to the interviewee: keep it in mind that everything anybody says will be interpreted; refrain from speaking in English if possible, (they sometimes try, and it doesn't help); do not try to say everything in one go, but stop after a couple of sentences and wait for the translation then continue, there will be time to explain everything, and ask for clarification if something is not clear.


Again, thanks for the useful tip. I don't think the younger girl would have remembered so many things but her sister would. There was also the added complication of a third language, with the younger girl appearing not to undertstand anything I was saying in French, despite her father insisting that she did.

juvera wrote:
Returning to the case you were talking about, undoubtedly it was not handled well. The officer may have known that ultimately it was not a very significant issue, and perhaps she rushed it. But she would have had to report about the interview to her senior officer and probably to the CPS as well, therefore they may have asked questions which would have made her realise her mistakes.


Yes, that's a good point. I suspect she was given this case to deal with by a senior officer who may have believed it to be straightforward, i.e. involving children, when in fact a family liaison officer would have known how to do things much better.

We learn from experience I suppose!

Thanks again for your reply.


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xxxStrastran
France
Local time: 14:36
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
good question Dec 5, 2008

Charlie Bavington wrote:

So, when interpreting, if you think the Act is being broken or contravened in some way, are you supposed to speak out?
I can see the value in knowing that stuff - but are you supposed to apply that knowledge? Or are you literally just the interpreter?

For instance, if you knew but the police didn't (e.g. because you could understand the conversation) that the father should not be an appropriate adult owing to also being a witness (say - imagine the police had yet to discover that fact; or even because you heard the kid confess to her dad that she'd done it), should you intervene to save time and to save the police collecting "evidence" that might later prove inadmissible (e.g. when I, as a master criminal, get my QC on the case)?

If you know something that the police don't, relevant to the case, and you don't tell them, that too is an offence, is it not?
Honestly, just wondering....


Very good question!

As I stated above, in this case the father wasn't informed at all of his rights/obligations/conduct as an 'appropriate adult'. He simply picked up on it and acted accordingly, as anyone would.

Yet, surely it wasn't up to me to tell him what his position was as an appropriate adult? If the police officer doesn't say anything, then the interpreter doesn't say anything.

At the beginning I sensed it would be a tricky situation so tried to clear things up a little before we started but it had little effect as she was so flustered.


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:36
English to Hungarian
+ ...
The interpreter is a thinking mouthpiece Dec 5, 2008

Charlie Bavington wrote:
So, when interpreting, if you think the Act is being broken or contravened in some way, are you supposed to speak out?
I can see the value in knowing that stuff - but are you supposed to apply that knowledge? Or are you literally just the interpreter?

For instance, if you knew but the police didn't (e.g. because you could understand the conversation) that the father should not be an appropriate adult owing to also being a witness (say - imagine the police had yet to discover that fact; or even because you heard the kid confess to her dad that she'd done it), should you intervene to save time and to save the police collecting "evidence" that might later prove inadmissible (e.g. when I, as a master criminal, get my QC on the case)?

If you know something that the police don't, relevant to the case, and you don't tell them, that too is an offence, is it not?
Honestly, just wondering....


First of all, for the benefit of other interpreters, I have to emphasize that all what is being said is based on UK law and UK experiences.
It means that they are good practice, but other countries may have different laws governing the treatment of detainees, about conducting interviews and dealing with minors.
Apart from that, what I say is my opinion, having studied for the appropriate exams as a public service and police interpreter, coupled with a dozen or so years of experience.

Charlie, even if you know the law, you would not challenge a police officer, unless the circumstances are truly exceptional, or if the contravention is affecting your own rights. They are the upholders of the law, you are a mouthpiece.
In addition, it is human nature not to take it too kindly when reminded of your failings, therefore it can backfire. That's why some tactics are useful to know, when it seems that the officer is inexperienced or absent-minded.

In any case, it would be a mistake to speak to them about any issue in connection of the case in front of the accused or somebody connected to them. It may be possible to talk to the officers about something afterwards, if they were not in a hurry, but even then, I would say, "this was interesting, because in an other case the officer did/did not say... Do you think it is necessary/not necessary...?" You get my gist.

The next point you raised is quite straightforward. NEVER put yourself in a situation when you may learn things you should not. For that, there are spoken and unspoken rules. The rulebook says, that the interpreter should not be left alone with the accused. That is not always observed, but it is a good rule for the interpreter to remember. Never stay alone with the accused, neither with the appropriate adult if they are relatives. (A "professional appropriate adult" would know the rules, and would be unlikely to discuss the actual case without the solicitor or police officer present.)

Demonstrate, that everything is interpreted from the moment you meet them, no matter how trivial it is.
If you hear something you don't want to hear, STOP them immediately, and tell the officer that they are talking about the case, tell what you heard, and if necessary, ask the officer to remind them not to speak about it when you are present, because everything the interpreter hears in this situation will be repeated to the police.

Sometimes the difficulty with this is to make them understand that in spite of that, when they are consulting with a solicitor, the interpreter will keep their confidentiality.

That brings you back to the question of you knowing something the police doesn't: make sure that it was not "confessed" to you only, but for example, if it was told to the solicitor, the rest is not your business.

If you know something about the case from other sources, like having interpreted to another defendant or witness, when you realise it, tell the police immediately about the circumstances and it is up to the police to decide if they can or cannot use your services in that instance.

Patrick Stenson wrote:
As I stated above, in this case the father wasn't informed at all of his rights/obligations/conduct as an 'appropriate adult'. He simply picked up on it and acted accordingly, as anyone would.

Yet, surely it wasn't up to me to tell him what his position was as an appropriate adult? If the police officer doesn't say anything, then the interpreter doesn't say anything.


No, you cannot say anything.
When you learn that he/she is present, you can ask if he was informed of his duties and rights as an appropriate adult, before you came, "just to be sure, to make the interpreter's job easier"... but that's it.

It is a lot to remember and work through, particularly sometimes at three in the morning, but luckily it can be sensed when it is important, and that makes us more alert in the circumstances.

I also met some inexperienced officers, luckily not in such a sensitive case, and went home quietly saying to myself: I would have done better.

Another point is worth mentioning.
Sometimes when things the officer knew about and I knew through the police, and I thought were absolutely relevant, were not mentioned in the interview by the officer. There were no questions asked about them, which surprised me. I learned that were not mentioned for a reason, for example, there are still ongoing investigations, and it would have been inappropriate to alert the suspect. Now I never worry about these occurrences.

One of the most difficult thing in this work is not to be in the picture, that is to say, our involvement may be only a single interview, and years afterwards still wondering, what happened at the end in a serious case. It must not blunt our sensitivity; we just have to learn to live with it as "professionals".


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QUOI  Identity Verified

Chinese to English
+ ...
Limited function Dec 5, 2008

I agree with juvera. The role of an interpreter working in a legal/judicial environment is in fact quite limited. The interpreter is not an advocate of rights, nor a social worker.


[Edited at 2008-12-05 21:14 GMT]


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:36
French to English
Good stuff Dec 6, 2008

juvera wrote:
The next point you raised is quite straightforward. NEVER put yourself in a situation when you may learn things you should not. For that, there are spoken and unspoken rules. The rulebook says, that the interpreter should not be left alone with the accused.

I can see that makes sense. No idle chatter by the coffee machine!


If you hear something you don't want to hear, STOP them immediately, and tell the officer that they are talking about the case, tell what you heard, and if necessary, ask the officer to remind them not to speak about it when you are present, because everything the interpreter hears in this situation will be repeated to the police.

I guess this is more akin to the situation I had in mind when I said if you find out, say, that the father is a witness, when you know the police think he isn't (e.g. because they said so, or implied it.)
I was thinking of a hypothetical situation where, for example, the police ask the kid to describe what happened, you interpret for the kid, the kid says nothing, so the dad says "come on princess, tell the policeman what you saw" and the kid says "why don't you, you saw it too" and you think 'ah, the police don't know that'.
(My kid is at an age where he sees no point in me asking him to do stuff if he thinks I can do it for him, hence this example springing to mind!)
So, clearly you would stop and tell the officer.

Thanks for all those explanations, much appreciated. For me, it was just curiosity, but I hope other people might find it useful too, professionally.

I have a feeling that perhaps this kind of interpreting work, apart from all the skills of interpreting, may also require a certain type of personality. The discipline to just be invisible unless it is absolutely essential you intervene. The ability to fight the urge to "help", because your "help" mght be misplaced and mess up an investigation. I'm not sure I could do that, and apart from simply admiring the skill of interpreters as interpreters (which I also can't do), I now have increased admiration for the work.


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