Why Me? launch their ‘Articulate’ project to widen access to Restorative Justice for victims of crime with EAL needs

It is well known that victims of crime with English as an Additional Language (EAL) needs often feel sidelined by the criminal justice system. One consequence of these language barriers is that Restorative Justice services do not reach such victims. This an unfortunate state of affairs, as Restorative Justice is a valuable and meaningful way of helping someone impacted by crime - and is something that Why me? hopes to rectify in our new project “Articulate.” Funded by the Bell Foundation over a three-year-period, we plan to widen access to Restorative Justice for victims of crime with EAL needs in one geographical location per year.

The demand for court interpreters in criminal proceedings has been steadily on the rise. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, the number of completed language service requests in the first quarter of 2020 (44,184) increased by 5% compared to the first quarter of 2019, a series high under the new contract. Criminal court requests continue to account for the largest proportion of completed language service requests. [1]

Ana Aliverti, Reader in Law at Warwick University, interviewed court staff - including judges, solicitors and prosecutors - across criminal courts in Birmingham, as part of her 2016 research. They replied that “language barriers – and the attendant need for professional interpretation - is one of the most taxing aspects of dealing with foreign nationals.” There were some major practical barriers here, such as finding interpreters for rare languages, and difficulties in scheduling interpreters for more common languages, such as Gujarati or Romanian. Bookings sometimes failed due to errors by the courts or by Capita Translating and Interpreting – the company tasked with providing interpretation services to a range of services, including courts and tribunals in England and Wales, since 2011.[2]  Further, the quality of interpreters’ work is also variable. For some languages, such as Polish, one crown court judge attested, ‘the quality is generally good, whereas for others it is very poor’.

All of this has a big impact upon non-English speakers’ experiences of the court process. They are significantly disadvantaged, even if assisted by competent interpreters. This is because by the time interpretation comes, juries in criminal trials have lost opportunities to assess nuance in voice and read facial expressions of witnesses - two metrics which are important for determining credibility. 

Similarly, the experience of victims in restorative justice processes may also be impacted by their level of English. Because of the language barriers - and the cultural barriers that may come with this - as well as the need to use interpreters, victims may feel excluded and humiliated. Offenders are also impacted: they are often unable to explain fully the reasons for their actions.

Tamar Dinisman notes in her research for Victim Support that when the harmed and harmer communicate through an interpreter, it is often difficult to show the full impact of the crime or incident. This not only relates to the impact on the victim’s life, but often the impact on their family and wider community as well.  For restorative justice to work, it is important to reflect all the emotions displayed by the harmed and the harmer.

The National Occupational Standards for Restorative Practice contains a unit entitled, “Use interpreters for restorative practices.” As part of this, RJ facilitators are instructed to “agree a means of communication that minimises the potential for power imbalances.” Sarah Maitland, lecturer in Translation at Goldsmiths College, observes that this appears alongside a reference to “gender equality, racial and cultural difference.” However, more detailed guidance is required on how facilitators and interpreters might navigate these to get the best restorative outcomes for their clients.

Civil society organisations that work with people who have EAL needs also report issues with the quality and provision of interpreters. An NGO worker quoted in the Victim Support report states: “We’ve had training about migrant women. Strangely, it doesn’t include the fact that they might speak English as a second language, and if it does touch on that, it’s basic you need to get an interpreter. It’s never about any sort of advice on how to overcome barriers and techniques”.

When it comes to specific crimes, like domestic violence, simply employing interpreters has been widely reported as poor practice. Using members of the victims’ family as interpreters is even poorer practice. The importance of sensitive support work in an appropriate language is key to women rebuilding their lives.[3]

This is where Why Me?’s project, Articulate, comes in.  We aim to work with both RJ services and civil society organisations to develop a model of Restorative Practice that is fully inclusive of people with EAL needs. We will deliver specialised training to one RJ service and one civil society group this year, covering a single linguistic group and geographical area. We also aim to lobby for policy changes to widen access to Restorative Justice for people with EAL needs. It’s about time these groups had access to Restorative Justice on the same terms as native English speakers.

Author | Tehmina Kazi, Why Me?

Contact the author HERE

Reference Resources - Click to access

[1] Criminal court statistics quarterly, England and Wales, January to March 2020 

[2] Aliverti, A. (2016) Divided by Language: Language Difference and its Politics Inside the Courtroom  

[3] Strengthening Diversity: responses to BME women experiencing domestic violence in the UK