National Register of Public Service Interpreters
The National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) is an independent not-for-profit organisation that regulates the standards for interpreters working in the public services in the UK. The principal aim is to protect the public from poor standards of interpreting. Known by interpreters and users alike as the National Register, or just ‘the Register’, NRPSI manages the UK’s largest register of accredited interpreters. It is used by police, courts, immigration services, solicitors, local government, health providers and every other part of the public services that has a language need. The National Register is online and free for the public to access at the website managed by the NRPSI
The three-year strategy published by NRPSI in 2016 states that the organisation’s ultimate goal is statutory regulation of the public service interpreting profession which would make it illegal for unregistered interpreters to work for the public services.
History of the organisation
In 1981, Iqbal Begum, a non-English speaker, was convicted of the murder of her husband and sentenced to life imprisonment. It was discovered by accident a number of years later that she had understood very little of what was happening in her trial, or the exact crime for which she was being tried. The court had used an accountant who did not speak Mrs Begum’s dialect to act as the language mediator.
"It is beyond the understanding of this court that it did not occur to someone that the reason for her [the defendant's] silence....... was simply because she was not being spoken to in a language which she understood."
As a result of the appeal Mrs Begum was released, but she never recovered from the disgrace of the original conviction and serving four years in jail, and some years later took her own life.
The 1993 Runciman Royal Commission on Criminal Justice recommended that a national register of qualified interpreters should be established with the aim of "using only interpreters with proven competence and skills, who are governed by a nationally recognised code of conduct".
Following an initial project which received Home Office financial support, in 1994 the Nuffield Foundation invited tenders to run an interpreting register. This was awarded to the Institute of Linguists (now the Chartered Institute of Linguists) and the National Register was born. At the same time the relevant graduate-level qualification, now called the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting, was established and continues to be offered by the Institute of Linguists Educational Trust.
The National Agreement on Arrangements for the Use of Interpreters, Translators and Language Service Professionals in Investigations and Proceedings within the Criminal Justice System (the ‘National Agreement’), published in revised form in 2007 by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform standardised the working relationships with interpreters and specified that spoken-language interpreters should be sourced from the NRPSI. This quality standard was dispensed with by the Ministry of Justice when they outsourced interpreting services to the commercial company ALS in 2012, leading to many problems and criticism from the UK Parliament.
NRPSI became independent of the Chartered Institute of Linguists in April 2011 and is now an independent not-for-profit organisation. It is governed by a Board of seven Directors, four of whom must be lay and three Practitioners, ie Registered Interpreters.
In order to prove their fitness to practise and be registered with NRPSI, spoken-language interpreters must provide proof of identity, entitlement to work in the UK, valid security vetting, appropriate qualifications, proof of relevant experience, and agree to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Registration requires a specific interpreting qualification (most commonly the DPSI) in the relevant second language and English. For registration at Full status, interpreters must provide evidence of over 400 hours relevant experience. Given the very large number of languages extant, there is a Rare Language status of entry to the Register for those languages where there is currently no interpreting qualification available. Rare Language candidates are required to provide documented proof of English language skills in addition to second language ability, and evidence of carrying out Continuing Professional Development (CPD) at each annual renewal of registration.
Registration must be renewed on an annual basis, when evidence of at least 10 hours relevant experience must be provided to show continuing practice in the language.
Registered Interpreters are able to use the letters RPSI after their name, and are provided with the NRPSI Photo ID Card so that their registration can be checked at each assignment (identity can be checked via the NRPSI website).
NRPSI Code of Conduct
NRPSI maintains the Professional Code of Conduct that all Registered Interpreters sign to confirm they will follow. Key components of the Code include maintaining confidentiality about any information heard during the interpreted interview, remaining impartial (public service interpreters do not act for either party but enable communication between them) and interpreting faithfully what is said in both languages.
Professional complaints process
In accordance with professional ethics, NRPSI provides a free professional complaints process for anyone who feels that a Registrant has not followed the Code of Conduct. NRPSI follows a defined procedure for all complaints, which are heard by panels comprising a majority of lay members to represent the interests of the public. If the complaint is found against the interpreter, they can face a range of sanctions, including suspension and expulsion from the Register. NRPSI publishes data on complaints heard and the outcomes of all complaints.
Protection of the public: the case for professional interpreting
A number of tragic examples have resulted in government reports indicating the importance of professional interpreting. The death of seven-year-old Victoria Climbié in February 2000 as a result of failures in child protection led to the public inquiry by Lord Laming. Lord Laming’s report highlighted failures on the part of various public services, including health services, social services and the police. Victoria’s first language was not English and there were significant language difficulties in the case: her great aunt Marie-Therese Kouao claimed to speak no English. At no time was Victoria interviewed alone with the aid of an interpreter. Instead, language mediation between Victoria and the English-speaking public services was provided by Kouao, the woman ultimately found to be jointly responsible for Victoria’s death.
The lack of ‘suitable interpreters’ is also highlighted as an issue in a major maternal deaths study (now called Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths in the UK):
“A lack of availability of suitable interpreters is one of the key findings running throughout this Report. The use of family members… or members of their own, usually tight-knit, community as translators causes concern.”
Reinforcing the dangers of using a family member to interpret when they could be the perpetrator of abuse against the party they are interpreting for, the study reports a victim as saying:
“Even if the perpetrator isn’t with you, he sends one of his family members with you. And in the name of honour you can’t ever talk about it. Especially if they say ‘I’m going to interpret because she can’t speak English’.”
The absence of professional language services occurred in the events leading to the death of five-year-old Daniel Pelka in March 2012. Family members and perpetrators of the crime were the ones used to interpret between the victim and the public services. Reporting in the Serious Case Review for the Coventry Safeguarding Children Board in September 2013, Dr Neil Fraser said about Daniel Pelka:
“Without proactive or consistent action by any professional to engage with him via an interpreter, then his lack of language and low confidence would likely have made it almost impossible for him to reveal the abuse he was suffering at home.”
The Independent Review of Quality Arrangements under the Ministry of Justice Language Services Framework Agreement (the 'Matrix Report') in December 2014 reported that 50% of respondents working for Capita TI did not hold even one of the top ten qualifications needed for interpreting in the justice sector. Capita TI holds the Ministry of Justice contract to provide interpreters and translators in courts, tribunals and prisons until October 2016. The Matrix Report supported independent regulation of the interpreting profession.
The interpreting profession today
Most interpreters are self employed and are hired on a job by job basis, not knowing when, or where, their next assignment may take them. The availability of Registered Interpreters varies across the UK. There is a range of ways the interpreter may be engaged by public service users: by direct contact using the National Register or the interpreter’s own website, via interpreting agencies, or as part of a government framework covering departmental or regional requirements.
There is a strong drive for recognition of interpreting as a profession in the UK despite government moves to de-recognise professional status. Increased immigration as a result of EU policies has led to greater recognition of the need for governments to facilitate communication between different language speakers and provide entitlement to interpreting and translation services. NRPSI has taken part in the LIT Search project funded by the Criminal Justice Programme of the European Commission Directorate General Justice, which aims to link the European national registers to aid cross-border interpreting requirements.
Due to the voluntary nature of the regulation by the National Register, many interpreters work in the UK without registration and appropriate qualifications. It is therefore not known how many interpreters are working regularly, nor how many assignments they are completing. The Ministry of Justice reported that in the courts system (probably the largest user of interpreting services in the UK) there were 160,600 requests during the year 2014.
NRPSI identified eight key challenges facing the interpreting profession, including the downward pressure on quality standards as a result of financial constraints on public services, ensuring that qualified interpreters maintain their skills throughout their career, and the lack of a clear career path. NRPSI’s stated long-term aims are protection of title and statutory regulation of public service interpreting to better protect the public.
- Practice Advice produced by the National Policing Improvement Agency on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers on European Cross-Border Investigations Chapter 20: Interpreters http://library.college.police.uk/docs/appref/european-cross-border-investigations.pdf
- Crown Prosecution Service Legal Guidance: Interpreters http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/h_to_k/interpreters/#a03
- UK Visas and Immigration Operational Guidance: Chapter 39 Interpreters https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/chapters-23-to-45-operational-enforcement-activity
- Law Society Practice Notes: Use of Interpreters in criminal cases http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/practice-notes/interpreters-in-criminal-cases/
- Camden Council: Contact language interpreters http://www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/content/contacts/categories/community-and-living/contact-interpreters.en#
- NHS England Principles Framework for Interpreting and Translation Services https://www.england.nhs.uk/commissioning/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2015/03/it_principles.pdf
- Wallace, Melissa (2015) Resisting Market Disorder and Ensuring Public Trust: Reimagining National Registers for Legal Interpreters in the United States and the European Union. MonTI, 7. pp. 115-140 http://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/52541/1/MonTI_07_05.pdf
- Townsley, Brooke (2008) Interpreting in the UK community: some reflections on public service interpreting in the UK. Language and Intercultural Communication, 7 (2). pp. 163-171 https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/12251/3/merged_document.pdf
- R v Iqbal Begum, Court of Appeal Criminal Division, 22 April, 1985 (6187/B/84)
- Report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice by Viscount Runciman of Doxford https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/271971/2263.pdf
- Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales by Lord Justice Auld http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.criminal-courts-review.org.uk/auldconts.htm
- Interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract: Justice Select Committee http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/645/64505.htm
- The Independent: Lost in Translation 18 September 2014 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/lost-in-translation-it-s-time-that-outsourcers-were-brought-to-justice-9742302.html
- Hlavac, Jim (2015) Formalizing Community interpreting standards: A Cross-National Comparison of Testing Systems, Certification Conventions and Recent ISO Guidelines. Int J Interpreter Education, 7(2). pp. 21-38 https://www.academia.edu/19676053/Formalizing_community_interpreting_standards_a_cross-national_comparison_of_testing_systems_certification_conventions_and_recent_ISO_Guidelines
- Newsweek: Twenty-First Century Professionals 6 March 2015 http://www.parnglobal.com/newsweek-twenty-first-century-professionals-TG
- The Victoria Climbie Inquiry https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/273183/5730.pdf
- ‘Saving Mothers’ Lives: Reviewing maternal deaths to make motherhood safer 2006–08’ by G. Lewis (ed.) Brit J. Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Vol 118, Supplement 1, March 2011 http://www.1000livesplus.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/documents/1011/CMACE%20Saving%20mothers%20Lives%202011.pdf
- Serious Case Review Daniel Pelka https://library.nspcc.org.uk/HeritageScripts/Hapi.dll/search2?searchTerm0=C4740
- Gallai, Fabrizio (2012) Legalising EU legal interpreters: a case for the NRPSI. The Interpreters' Newsletter, 17. pp. 139-156 http://www.openstarts.units.it/dspace/bitstream/10077/8619/1/Gallai_IN17.pdf
- EU Directive 2010/64 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32010L0064&rid=6
- EU Directive 2011/36 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:101:0001:0011:EN:PDF
- Hertog, Erik (2015) Looking back while going forward: 15 years of legal interpreting in the EU. Trans, 19-1. pp. 15-31 http://www.trans.uma.es/Trans_19-1/Trans19-1_015-031.pdf
- LIT Search project http://www.eulita.eu/lit-search-%E2%80%93-pilot-project-eu-database-legal-interpreters-and-translators