Lack of interpreters 'compromising efficiency' of law enforcers

Top News | James Yu 23 Jul 2021

There is significant difficulty for the government in finding experienced foreign-language and Chinese dialect interpreters, the Ombudsman has found.

It recommended that the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau direct the formation of a central database of foreign-language interpreters for use by government departments.

The report raised issues surrounding the ability of various government departments, especially the police force, to provide foreign-language or Chinese dialect interpreters for languages except Putonghua and Cantonese, including the ability of departments to quickly and efficiently find reliable interpretation services for necessary purposes.

Departments use various ways to seek out interpreters, including support from ethnic minority nongovernment organizations and the private market.

The police rely on a registry of external freelance interpreters provided by the judiciary administration.

However, the judiciary has not updated the registry since August 2018, meaning that government contacts for foreign-language interpreters are outdated.

The Ombudsman also found that the government has not established any uniform qualification requirements for such interpreters.

"The law enforcement departments' arrangements for interpretation services would inevitably become less efficient," the Ombudsman said in its report.

"It has become more difficult for them to look for experienced foreign-language interpreters who are familiar with court proceedings.

"This will certainly compromise the efficiency of relevant departments in performing duties and providing public services."

The Ombudsman advised the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau to lead the way in the formation of a centralized database which would provide government departments with contact information, academic qualifications, scheduling availability and areas of specialization of freelance interpreters.

As for the interpreters themselves, it was recommended that fixed agreements of confidentiality and codes of conduct be established for all external freelancers to follow.

The Ombudsman also recommended each department to explore the feasibility of providing remote interpretation services.

In response to the Ombudsman, the bureau said it will carefully examine the recommendations and will coordinate with relevant government departments to begin putting together a central database of external foreign language interpreters.

"The general interpretation services currently provided by the Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents has satisfied the interpretation service needs of most of the public authorities to help people of different races to obtain public services," a spokesman said.

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