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London Police: Cold Blood Interpreting

To learn about the police interpreting we talked to John McCarthy (London, the United Kingdom), the expert of legal interpretation who knows everything about our job in the police and in court. He told us when, how and in which manner an interpreter works with investigators and explained some principal terms and notions to ruin misconceptions about the police.

Who are your clients, police or the suspect?

The client is the police force you are working with because it is the police who have contracted you to act as an interpreter and it is from the police budget that you are remunerated for this work. However, the interpreter is independent of the police and must act in a wholly impartial way when performing his/her duties. The interpreter is in fact working neither for the police nor for the defendant, but simply facilitating meaningful communication between the two parties.

What kinds of crime do you deal with most of the time?

Over a period of time any police interpreter will have experience of working with a wide variety of crimes, from the relatively minor, such as shoplifting, to very serious offences like rape and murder. Perhaps the offences which seem most to recur however are those of minor to more serious assaults, particularly assaults occurring in the domestic realm between couples.

Can you always be objective and unemotional doing your job?

Of course, that is precisely what is required of an effective police interpreter. We are often working under stressful and emotionally charged circumstances, dealing sometimes with very upset and even volatile or mentally ill people. It is therefore of paramount importance, both for the effectiveness of a police enquiry and for the emotional wellbeing of the interpreter, that objectivity and emotional distance are maintained in the carrying out of one’s duty. I feel I am able to do this well enough by concentrating on the words being spoken rather than the events or emotions to which they might refer.

It is worth mentioning that all cases, even the seemingly minor, simple ones, have elements of interest. I am interested in every case in which I am involved because a case will always involve people, personalities, and that is something which I think I will never tire of. Police interpreting, as well as providing an income, can, if the interpreter is paying proper attention, also give one a rich education and valuable life lessons.

What is the interrogation manner of the Metropolitan police?

As for the interrogation manner of Metropolitan police, I can say the following. First of all the questioning of a suspect is always called an interview, never an interrogation (although interestingly in Spanish it translates precisely into that, “interrogatorio”, rather than “entrevista” for interview). The style is rarely confrontational and never, in my experience, aggressive. What police officers are trained to do is pick up on inconsistencies in a suspect’s account, and the police will often not reveal all the information, or evidence, in their possession to the suspect and/or his legal representative. The information given to a legal representative before an interview is called disclosure, and will generally be the bare bones of the reasons and circumstances of a suspect’s arrest.

Suspects are often advised to give no comment interviews, particularly when a legal representative is not convinced that his client has much of a defence and/or he is not sure the police have, prior to the interview, revealed all the information they have. The reason for this is that he doesn’t want the suspect to say anything that might incriminate him, as it is, after all, for the police to prove his involvement in the crime he is being questioned about, not for the suspect to prove his innocence. Something that many people who have not had any involvement with the police and legal system fail to understand is that it is not the police who charge a suspect; that job falls to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), lawyers acting for the State who will base their decision as to whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution on the evidence presented to them by the police and their assessment of the likelihood of a prosecution resulting in a conviction. The role of the police is to investigate, not to prosecute.

An important distinction. Another common misconception is that, in cases of assault, for example, it is the victim who presses charges. Again, this is never the case. A victim may well be a witness in a prosecution case, but it is the CPS which is prosecuting the offender.

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