Police academy: Interpreting research makes sense of investigative processes

A recent development in LINCS is the establishment of a Police Interpreting Research Group within the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland (CTISS).

LINCS was one of the first in Europe to offer postgraduate training in Public Service Interpreting (PSI). PSI covers all parts of the public sector, prominently including contexts like police interviews, asylum hearings and client-lawyer consultations. Over  20 years, LINCS’ researchers (led by Professors Ursula Boser, Ian Mason, Isabelle Perez and Graham Turner, with others such as Christine Wilson) have contributed significantly to a PSI revolution.

If we want to understand and improve interpreting, it’s not enough to focus on the action of the interpreter: interpreting depends upon interaction between participants.

Police interpreting is a special case. Court interpreting is relatively well-researched, but what happens in the courts depends hugely on earlier parts of the legal process. If the police investigation goes wrong, it’s hard for the courts to put things straight.

But the early elements of the ‘forensic narrative’ have largely gone unexplored in research. CTISS aims to address this gap and thus contribute to the implementation of the EU regulatory framework on the right to interpretation and translation of criminal proceedings.

As part of this work, CTISS is active in two European projects, TRAFUT and IMPLI with a third proposed for 2013 called, Justisigns.

Research has conclusively demonstrated that interpreting is less beneficial when  you treat interpreters as ‘invisible’. They are inevitably active participants in interaction. The question, however, remains: what does effective co-operation between interpreters and other participants look like? We aim to address this question from a number of angles.

CTISS research into police interpreting focuses on themes such as definitions and perceptions of role; analysis of codes of ethics and conduct and ethical dilemmas; the impact of interpreter mediation on institutionally defined speech genres (forensic interview formats), in particular recall and rapport-building. A key outcome is the design of better training for legal interpreters and police officers.

Most research on police interpreting has so far been based on experimental data. Access to authentic data from mediated police interviews is, quite rightly, extremely difficult to secure. By putting authentic interviews under the linguistic microscope, we can improve knowledge very significantly.