Project Articulate – Insights from Roundtable on 3rd December 2020
Language barriers are a big issue for many people trying to access the criminal justice system, but it is also important to look at the impact of religion and culture. For instance, there are taboos around certain crimes e.g. sexual and domestic violence in certain cultures, so much so that there are no words to accurately describe them in the native language. This is why cultural awareness training is also essential in terms of overcoming barriers.
In terms of practical barriers to justice, the provision of interpreters is often patchy, and important details get lost in translation if the interpreter is not present physically, and is communicating via phone or even video-link. Family members are sometimes relied upon as interpreters, which can be an issue when they misrepresent what the parties say. Practical barriers to successful Restorative Justice processes can include professionals assuming a client’s level of English e.g. formal English when they might only have “street” English. Why me? Has come across cases where individuals have been assumed to not be showing genuine remorse, for this reason – and the RJ process has consequently failed. RJ depends so much on people’s voices being understood.
Good practice includes Victim Support Lancashire’s project with Urdu speakers, which features animated films on a range of relevant topics, such as how to support victims of sexual violence. Initiatives like these make it easier to discuss taboo subjects in South Asian communities.
There are a number of interpretation methods. Language interpreters highly recommend simultaneous interpretation, where the interpreter whispers into the client’s ear. It is hard work for the interpreter, but really reduces the duration of the RJ conference.
Verbatim translation is one thing, but conveying deeper meanings between different communities can be quite another. Cultural mediation is a strong way of conveying meaning between different communities because cultural mediators are equipped to explain the cultural context their clients are coming from. They also provide additional support like filling out forms or explaining court procedures. The Criminal Justice system contains a lot of jargon that is inaccessible even for those with English as a first language, so there is work around translating the concepts of RJ to community members as well.
Building trust with victims of crime with EAL needs is absolutely key, and this can be facilitated by recruiting diverse RJ caseworkers.