A growing demand for face-to-face interpreting in legal settings is a feature of our increasingly multicultural world. Research by CTISS (Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies in Scotland) on face-to-face interpreting in police investigations has promoted equal access to justice in multilingual societies, guiding changes to policy, practice and training for police officers and legal professionals across Europe.

While there is a widespread perception of interpreters as mere mouthpieces, research reveals a very different reality. CTISS has contributed to pioneering work which shows that interpreted interactions are co-constructed by all participants, including the interpreter. This has particularly important implications in multilingual legal settings where the stakes of successful communication are high for citizens and society.

CTISS work on legal interpreting began at national level when the Scottish Government commissioned CTISS to investigate the need for Translation, Interpreting and Communication in Scotland. The study revealed an acute unmet demand for qualified interpreters and the need for professionalisation.

The study’s recommendations had widespread impact on provision and training. For example, CTISS developed a new Code of Practice on How to Work with Interpreters. This formed part of the training on the interpreter’s role conducted by Heriot-Watt for the Scottish Police College.

In 2009, European milestone legislation on language rights in criminal proceedings further propelled demand for CTISS expertise. As Scottish representative on the IMPLI project CTISS researchers and experts from six European jurisdictions developed recommendations for best practice in police interpreting. CTISS also contributed significantly to the establishment of the European Legal Interpreters and Translators Association, the EU register of qualified practitioners.

In these and other initiatives CTISS researchers provide an evidence base for policy-making that will guide practice and training and ultimately ensure equal access to justice in culturally and linguistically diverse societies.