The PhD work I am undertaking looks at whether and how video interpreting could be used to facilitate interactions between the police and a deaf person who uses British Sign Language (BSL). I will begin by looking at first points of contact and progress further into other forms of police interaction to understand the potential of video interpreting and its limitations.

Video-mediated interpreting is a delicate subject as many fear this will become the default choice, replacing spoken or signed language interpreters who would currently attend in person. These concerns are mirrored among deaf and hearing people who require interpreting services. Whilst these concerns are justified, many also recognise the difficulties public authorities, such as the police, experience in locating an interpreter with the requisite spoken or signed language combination. Early stages of contact are generally unplanned and spontaneous, however, as we move further into the process, time pressures and level of demand may change. This is why video-conferencing facilities are currently being used to reach an interpreter in legal contexts. It is important to note, video interpreting is not the only option available to deaf people. Deaf Action in Edinburgh have set up a remote reporting service. As a recognisable organisations in Edinburgh, Deaf Action have trained staff who facilitate and assist with the reporting of an incident or crime to the police.

The AVIDICUS project for several years has been exploring the use of video-mediated interpreting in criminal proceedings. The AVIDICUS project was established in response to greater migration across the 28 European member states. The scale of migration of EU citizens and their legal right to an interpreter became complex and difficult to manage. For the police, it was not always predictable where and when an interpreter would be required, nor the language combinations that would be called for. Video-conferencing facilities began to be seen as an ideal solution to deploying interpreting services on an ad-hoc basis. A key concern for legal representatives was to collate independent academic evidence that could inform and guide future use of video-mediated interpreting usage in legal contexts. Reports and publications of the AVIDICUS project can be found here: AVIDICUS project. A summary of the AVIDICUS findings follows:

Video/Remote interpreting is to be avoided when (non-exhaustive list):

  • Conducting the first thorough questioning of suspects in certain judicial investigations (e.g. drug smuggling, indecency offenses, violent crimes, frontier running).
  • Interviewing vulnerable witnesses and victims.
  • Interviewing minors.
  • Interviewing psychopaths.

Video/Remote interpreting can be used when (non-exhaustive list):

  • Re-interviewing suspects in certain judicial investigations to confront the suspect with, for instance, new evidence that surfaced during the investigation, detailed questioning about a certain topic that was not sufficiently dealt with during the first, face-to-face interview, and verifying certain topics that came up during the first interview.
  • Interviewing as part of procedural issues, for instance in immigration law, and extradition procedures.
  • Re-interviewing victims or witnesses to explore certain topics in depth, and if necessary, showing a picture line-up.

(Braun & Taylor, 2012)

The recommendations listed by the AVIDICUS project tell me that we are not ready for a complete roll out of video interpreting services to facilitate all kinds of interactions with the police, especially lengthy interviews where a statement is being prepared (Braun & Taylor, 2012). Certain areas remain out of bounds for interpreting via a video link because of the lack of presence (see Moser-Mercer, 2005) and additional challenges brought on when communicating via technology. The advice leans more towards interactions that are short, such as fact checking or where the pace and flow of conversation is not harmed by an interpreter being physically located elsewhere.

During my research, I will take on board the recommendations presented in the AVIDICUS project. Different questions must be explored from the perspective of victims, witnesses and suspects. Additionally, I’m mindful that deaf people in Britain may be far more experienced and confident in receiving interpreting services via video technology. It is possible that higher levels of experience will produce a slightly different set of recommendations concerning the use of video-mediated interpreting service to deaf people in policing contexts. For example, a study by Conway and Ryan (Submitted) looked at the experiences of deaf people living in Islington who used video remote interpreting (VRI) to access their local GP (primary medical) services. The option to use VRI is offered as a standby service, where local deaf people determine when VRI should or should not be used. Decisions are made after weighing up the severity of the complaint and the urgency of the appointment. The dialogue between local GPs, local deaf residents and the VRI provider has the potential to enhance health care outcomes. It is clear that the opinions and human experiences of people relying on these services will form a vital element of this conversation, especially if we are to develop a sustainable model of remote interpreting for the future.



Braun, & Taylor. (2012). Videoconference and remote interpreting in legal proceedings. Cambridge: Intersentia.

Conway, D., & Ryan, H. (Submitted). Feeling ‘fully human’… working to reduce health inequalities in primary care through video interpreting. In J. Napier, R. Skinner, & S. Braun (Eds.), Here nor There: Research on interpreting via video link: Gallaudet University Press.

Moser-Mercer, B. (2005). Remote interpreting: The crucial role of presence. bulletin vals-asla, 81, 73-97.


PACE – Police And Criminal Evidence (1984) Act.


Many police stations, prisons and courthouses in England Wales are equipped with video conferencing facilities. These video conferencing facilities are used for a variety of reasons to assist legal representatives with their work. Video conferencing is also used to introduce an interpreter to an interaction. The interpreter could be stationed alone in another police station while a suspect and police officer are located together in a different police station. Alternatively, an interpreter could be located with a legal representative and the detainee in another location, such as a prison. See Braun & Taylor 2013 for a breakdown of configurations.

When the police look to use an interpreter via video conferencing facilities to communicate with a suspect, this must be managed in accordance with the PACE – Police And Criminal Evidence (1984) guidelines. PACE guidelines are only concerned with interviewing and arresting a suspect. PACE guidelines do not apply to witnesses or victims. Previously the PACE guidelines stipulated specific locations where an interpreter can join via video conferencing, e.g. a police station, prison or courthouse. On the 22nd of November 2016 MPs of the British parliament discussed revisions to the PACE (1984) guidelines permitting the use of interpreting services from alternative locations (see link for the full English transcript). From this alternative location the interpreter would join the interaction and provide their service. These changes to PACE guidelines come into effect this week. The proposal to change the PACE guidelines came from Barroness William’s of Trafford (The Minister of State, Home Department), following a public consultation on the PACE (1984) guidelines. These changes will only affect how police officers in England and Wales consider the use of video-conferencing when interviewing or arresting a suspect.

If a suspect risks being detained longer because of the time it takes to locate an interpreter, then the prospect of a video interpreter from an alternative location could be of real benefit. However, there are still a number of concerns that remain unclear.

  1. What is meant by ‘remote location’? Will the remote location be an ISO approved call centre or an interpreter’s private facility?
  2. Will there be vetting and approval processes to ensure the remote service is secure and set in a private location?
  3. How these changes will impact on the use of video-conferencing facilities with witnesses and victims?
  4. Providers of interpreting services are likely to favor deployment by video because it is cheaper and easier. Yet, research consistently shows a preference for an onsite interpreter from all stakeholders (Locatis et al. 2010; Moser-Mercer 2003, Mouzourakis 1996, 2006; Turner et al 2016). This is because of the visual and social cues like gestures, and other non-verbal aspects of communication. Therefore, how can we be sure the rights of the individual are not being compromised when arrested or interviewed?
  5. Will attending to technology distract from the interview process?
  6. What involvement will the public have in guiding the government’s decisions?

In this current climate where profit generation has eroded the working conditions of interpreters, particularly in the legal field, how can we be sure that quality and the rights of the individual to a fair process comes first? In my previous posting a deaf person who requested the assistance of an interpreter for a pre-planned interview was flatly declined by a police officer (see first point contact). The reason given was “we don’t have enough resources”. Clearly, the use and need of interpreters on-site is still not fully understood by police officers. Therefore, how can we be sure a future with the intention of being a “standby service” via video link will be appropriately managed by interpreter providers and police officers? Furthermore, how can we be sure the video provider is stationed in a secure and private space?


Braun, S., & Taylor, J. (2013). Videoconference and remote interpreting in legal proceedings. Intersentia.

Locatis, C., Williamson, D., Gould-Kabler, C., Zone-Smith, L., Detzler, I., Roberson, J., Maisiak, R. and Ackerman, M. (2010) Comparing in-person, video, and telephonic medical interpretation. Journal of General Internal Medicine 25 (4) 345-50.

Moser-Mercer, B. (2003) Remote interpreting: assessment of human factors and performance parameters. Communicate! Summer 2003. http://aiic.net/ViewPage.cfm?page_id=1125 (accessed 24/01/2014).

Mouzourakis, P. (1996) Videoconferencing: techniques and challenges. Interpreting 1 (1), 21-38.

Mouzourakis, P. (2006) Remote interpreting: a technical perspective on recent experiments. Interpreting 8 (1), 45-66.

Turner, G. H., Napier, J., Skinner, R., & Wheatley, M. (2016). Telecommunication relay services as a tool for deaf political participation and citizenship. Information, Communication & Society, 1-18.

Other useful resources:

Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings.