Police Interviews Involving the Deaf, Those with Impaired Hearing and Users of British Sign Language

How are the clients interests protected?

As many will know, police interviews have been audio recorded for decades. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 created the framework of rules surrounding the need for police interviews to be recorded. Originally contemporaneously recorded it was not before long that we moved onto cassette tapes, but over recent years there have been a number of changes with the development of technology and most police forces now record digitally either to CD-ROM, DVD or directly to a secure hard drive or network.

We are often involved in cases with clients who speak different languages and require an interpreter. There are commonly issues in these types of cases as to whether answers, or often more importantly questions have been correctly interpreted. It is not surprising when you consider that it is estimated that there are up to 7,000 different languages throughout the world, over 300 languages spoken in the UK and many of those often have different regional variations or dialects.

In those cases an expert interpreter would be instructed by defence lawyers to listen to the recording and provide an opinion to a Court as to the accuracy of the translation and interpretation of the police interview which to some extent results in clarity and resolution.

What about clients who use a British sign language interpreter and there is an issue later as to the whether the interpretation is correct?

To state the obvious, an audio recording is of little or absolutely no use.

How, as lawyers, do we safeguard our BSL user client’s rights?

Some readers may be aware that the police have had the facilities to video record interviews for many years and are routinely used in serious offences.

What many suspects may not be aware of is that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act; Codes of Practice Code F (para 3.1d) sets out the circumstances where an interviewer might consider it appropriate to be visually recorded; “with, or in the presence of, a deaf or deaf/blind or speech impaired person who uses sign language to communicate”.

The Law Society has issued guidance to solicitors relying solely on para 3.1.(d). However in addition, what most suspects and many lawyers sometimes miss is paragraph 3.1(f) which stipulates that another appropriate case where; “their representative requests that the interview be recorded visually”.

Surely, two arguments are better than one?

Well in my experience, yes they are and, if properly argued will result in success. Personally, I’m more than happy to argue both points with the police prior to the interview. In circumstances where the police do not accept my representations I may advise my client not to take part in any meaningful police interview and, if appropriate, give evidence as to the reasoning of my advice to a Court.

If you are facing an interview with police, what you need to ensure:

1. You will be represented by a lawyer who is knowledgeable and appreciative of your needs.

2. That your lawyer not only ensures that the interview (if appropriate) is video recorded, but also that the police get the basics right. Many interview rooms have cameras only pointing towards the interviewee and not the interviewer or interpreter. The lawyer needs to ensure that recording covers clearly the signing of both the interpreter and the interviewee.

3. The video is later analysed by you and your lawyer to look for any potential misunderstanding of the questions asked by the police officer, your understanding, or about how your answers were interpreted.

4. If there is any possibility of any dispute, then an appropriate expert should be instructed to consider the video recording and provide an opinion.

If you need any advice or wish to discuss any of the issues above, please contact me.

Jonathan Wall

Burton Copeland LLP