Amendment 13

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 9:00 pm ar 16 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Coussins:

Moved by Baroness Coussins

13: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, after “services” insert “, including professionally qualified interpreters and translators”

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment 13 is in my name. I remind the House about my various interests in relation to languages and linguists.

In Committee, I proposed four amendments in relation to language services, but I accepted the Minister’s argument, in relation to three of them anyway, that they concerned operational detail rather than matters of principle and were therefore more appropriate for guidance or regulations in the future than for putting in the Bill. However, the fourth of my amendments in Committee and the subject of the amendment I have tabled this evening is in a different category altogether. I feel very strongly that it is a matter of principle, which is why I have brought it back at this stage. It is the principle that, where interpreting and translation services are needed by victims, as they have a right to expect under the victims’ code, those interpreters and translators should be qualified and professional.

I am very grateful indeed to the Minister and his officials for meeting me twice and for giving careful, serious attention to the points I made in Committee about the importance of this issue. I understand that there is a reluctance on the part of the Government to add new points to the Bill. I had thought that by getting this issue into the Bill itself, it would be given more weight and less wriggle room. However, I also understand that the intention now is that the status of the code itself will be effectively upgraded and more binding than it is at present.

We have heard this evening about the very welcome government amendments about, for example, a statutory duty on relevant bodies to provide services in accordance with the revised code and a duty of compliance on relevant public bodies. Therefore, in the light of all that, I can see that my fears of non-compliance with anything short of what is actually in the Bill could fall away because of this elevated status.

I have been very encouraged by what has been suggested to me by the Minister as a positive alternative to my amendment. I assume that he will be sharing with the House what he has already been generous enough to share with me, which is a significant strengthening of the wording of the relevant parts of the victims’ code in relation to interpreting and translation services. I have consulted with the Chartered Institute of Linguists, the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, and the Bell Foundation, and all these organisations also regard the proposed draft revisions to the code as a very welcome step in the right direction.

I suppose I should not say any more about what is proposed myself, as I am sure that the Minister will want to do that. Suffice it to say that the two key words “professional” and “qualified” make a decisive appearance in the proposed revisions. If the Minister confirms this tonight, I will regard it as a positive outcome that delivers on my objective and shows that the Government have taken my point seriously, and I thank the Minister most sincerely for his engagement and his willingness to get this right.

I hope that these changes, if they come to fruition, will mean that we will no longer see services resorting to drafting in the court usher, the hospital porter who happens to speak Polish, the neighbour’s teenage son because he is doing Spanish at school or the man who runs the Chinese restaurant up the road. These are all real examples that have been brought to my attention. I hope that, if we are looking instead at what should be there, which is to do with professional, qualified interpreters and translators, all that will be a thing of the past.

In closing, I caution the Minister and his department to be aware that there will be very close monitoring of these aspects of the revised victims’ code to assess compliance. It is well worth reflecting that the use of professional, qualified interpreters and translators is not just right and proper for the victims, who need their services; it cuts both ways, also enabling those responsible for the administration of justice and the quality of justice to understand better what has happened and what needs to be done about it. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and, for the moment, I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, from these Benches we pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for her absolute and consistent determination that we should be reminded about the need for professionally qualified interpreters. We had a good debate in Committee on her previous amendments. I will not repeat what I said then. I have torn up what I was going to say because I will be very interested to know what the Minister is going to say. I hope that the noble Baroness gets some very good news.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who has pursued this matter doggedly. We have all received emails updating us on the discussions. I too look forward to what the Minister says. We all have our own horror stories of inappropriate translation and interpretation. I am sure that the Minister has from his career, too; it is a feature of life in courts and the wider criminal justice system. Nevertheless, I will listen with anticipation to what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, talking of experiences, my abiding memory is of a case in the county court where the interpreter opened the proceedings by telling the judge that he was deaf. Matters deteriorated from there.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, very much for her Amendment 13. The Government recognise that victims must be confident that the criminal justice process will be accessible to them so that they can participate effectively, regardless of their first language. We think that details of the specialist support services are better in the code, but I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her constructive engagement on this issue.

As she is aware, we have been drafting strengthening content for right 1 of the victims’ code, which is the right to understand and be understood, ahead of publicly consulting after this Bill has received Royal Assent. This strengthened wording makes it clear that victims are entitled to access interpreting and translation services from qualified professionals. “Qualified” and “professionals” are the decisive words that the noble Baroness referred to. I hope that I have reassured her that we have heard and considered her arguments carefully and are committed to addressing their intent through the victims’ code. On that basis, I invite her not to press her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench 9:15, 16 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, all I can do is once again thank the Minister and, indeed, all noble Lords who have supported my amendment throughout the process of this Bill and all who have spoken this evening in support. I thank the Bill team as well as the Minister, because they have all been extremely helpful in our discussions. I look forward to the public consultation on a revised, strengthened victims’ code, and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.