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.


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