The UK’s only independent, voluntary regulator of professional interpreters working in the public sector is concerned that law firms are employing unregulated interpreters to provide translation services.

Mike Orlov, executive director of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), told the Gazette that, this month, one law firm reportedly rejected engaging the services of a NRPSI-registered interpreter because the linguist was not ‘registered’ with a private agency. 

Mike Orlov

Executive director of NRPSI Mike Orlov

Orlov said little is known about who are on lists held by privately owned agencies. By contrast, interpreters on the NRPSI are security-vetted and agree to abide by a code of professional conduct. A professional standards department handles complaints, which may be referred to a disciplinary committee.

The NRPSI was set up in 1994 following a recommendation by the Runciman Royal Commission on Criminal Justice.

In the NRPSI's latest annual review, Ted Sangster, chair, said: ‘Given the existence of NRPSI’s independent professional conduct and disciplinary processes, there is no need for privately owned agencies – which, by their very nature, are not free from commercial and other interests – to handle complaints about interpreters, as long as these interpreters are registrants on the national register.’

Orlov said the government states that there is no demand across the public sector to mandate the use of accredited, registered and regulated interpreters. However, he says in the report: 'Well-trained, qualified and experienced public service interpreters contribute to the safeguarding of human rights.'

The NRPSI has written to the government calling for a statutory requirement for all interpreters to be accredited, registered and regulated by an independent, not-for-profit organisation. The absence of such a requirement risks a ‘Wild West’ situation, Orlov told the Gazette.