Daily Telegraph letter
On 31st August 2020 you published an article by Sophie Barnes the title of which was “Translation work for foreign crime suspects costs UK £450,000 a week” and its first paragraph read “Government officials have spent £450,000 a week on language experts to provide translation services to foreign-speaking criminals and people caught up in the UK’s legal system.”
Can you please enlighten me? Where is the language “foreign” spoken? I could understand “German-speaking”, “French-speaking” or “Polish-speaking” for example, but “foreign-speaking” is simply xenophobic and divisive. Your journalist then uses the word “criminals” to describe those people “caught up in the UK’s legal system.” Surely you can admit that being “caught up” in a country’s legal system does not imply guilt, yet your journalist does just that, because in her eyes these people are criminals. They may be victims or witnesses — perhaps to extremely serious crime — they may help convict criminals, but your journalist, it seems, has already convicted them. Or did she simply want to influence the minds of your readers in order to make out that “well, they’ve gotta be guilty of something! Why else are they caught up in the UK’s legal system!” See, that’s the only reason one might be caught up in it, isn’t it?! Why on earth would one have anything to do with the law unless one were guilty of something?
The article is disgraceful.
Throughout the article there is reference to costs of translators, as if the translators themselves earn £450,000 a week. I can tell you they do not. A little investigation would have revealed to your journalist that the bulk of translator costs is paid by the Ministry of Justice to agencies such as thebigword, the MoJ’s main provider of language services under what is known as The Framework Agreement. A key metric requirement of the MoJ contract with thebigword is 98% fulfilment of contractual obligations - the current fulfilment rate stands at 97%. “That’s only 1 per cent off” cry your readers. Think of it like this: completed cases: 44,184 = 98%, therefore about 1,366 cases in 3 months = 21 cases per working day were not fulfilled by thebigword (correct me if my maths is wrong). What is the cost of delaying and adjourning cases? Such costs pale into insignificance when one considers the failings of a major government contractor. I shall remind you that interpreters (not language experts – that is a term that thebigword uses) are professionally trained and perform what is recognised by scientists and academics to be a cognitively challenging task. They do it for people who have a right to an interpreter. The right to an interpreter is an integral part of the right to a fair trial. It is a principle of English common law that the Defendant must be able to understand the charges made against them and be able to properly defend themselves. Argue with the CPS if you disagree with me, for it publishes those very words on its own website. The right is also enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
I believe your journalist should apologise and write a clarification, for it is clear in the article she wrote that she implies that those caught up in the UK’s legal system have done wrong, just for being caught up and well, that they speak foreign!
The Tax Payers’ Alliance is a right-wing pressure group in the UK. While important questions have been raised about Tax Payers’ Alliance, it is of interest that you, as Editor of The Daily Telegraph use its political director, James Roberts, and his quotes to bolster the article’s reasoning: "Taxpayers will be lost for words to hear the bill for translations has once again gone up. There will always be some cases where a translator is needed to give everyone a fair shot at justice, but those who live in Britain should learn to speak English so that they are not a continuing burden on taxpayers." I would argue that of greater burden to tax payers, accumulatively, are the incurred costs on the criminal justice system for continued failures by thebigword (and Capita T&I previously) to supply professional interpreters and translators on time and within contract SLAs, which they are supposed to do.
Your article is distinctly racist in its tone and there is currently no obligation upon anyone living in England and Wales to renounce the right to an interpreter during any interaction with the criminal justice system. The article is explicitly and blatantly bigoted, it is a dog whistle to embolden racists and spreads the virus of ‘othering’ and hatred. James Roberts, whom the letter quotes, believes that those who live in Britain should learn to speak English. I agree. As should those British citizens who have emigrated to various parts of the world and yet who do not learn to speak foreign well enough to be able to defend themselves in a court of law in the countries in which they live. Why? Because they don’t need to, right? Their right to interact with foreign criminal justice systems is enshrined in law, as it is here for all those foreigns who are over here!
The implication that it's wrong to speak any language other than English when interacting with the criminal justice system, and that 3 or more types of creole exist (how dare they!) reveals the level of superiority betrayed by the article’s author. The Daily Telegraph seeks to render a creole language illegitimate, while Creology is a genuine subfield of linguistics. Your journalist is indeed extremely badly informed. An apology and correction would be the right and decent way for your newspaper to correct matters.
MR ROBIN HUMPHREY