“Police Investigative Interviews and Interpreting: Context, Challenges, and Strategies” by Sedat Mulayim, Miranda Lai and Caroline Norma

Police Investigative Interviews and Interpreting: Context, Challenges, and Strategies is an accessible and useful resource for police officers who are likely to undertake an interview mediated by an interpreter or for interpreters who undertake assignments in police settings. The book covers a range of essential topics, drawing on empirical research and considers both the police and interpreter’s perspectives.

Topics include:

  • An explanation of what interpreting is, the skills required, and the role of interpreters in any work context.
  • A breakdown of investigative interviewing techniques in law enforcement. The PEACE model promoted across the UK police and the US-based Reid Technique.
  • Concerns about interpreter intervention and its impact on interview outcomes.
  • The value of word-based over meaning-based interpretation in police and legal contexts.
  • Non-linguistic factors that can have an impact on the interpreting process.


Chapter 1: This chapter unpacks general definitions of and approaches to interpreting, ranging from non-interventionist to interventionist models, and why certain concepts of interpreting are not suited to an investigative interview. The linguistic and cultural challenges when transferring concepts or meaning are also explained to justify why an interpreter may be unable to comply with a particular path determined by a speaker (or signer). This chapter makes clear the rationales that define the scope and boundaries of an interpreter’s role, the interpreter’s capacity to perform, and the need for the interpreter to respect, without interference, the relationship between clients.

Chapter 2: This chapter draws largely on a collection of descriptive work, looking at how police undertake investigative interviews and touches on issues such as formulaic language, power asymmetry, interview structure, turn-taking patterns and degree of formality (especially at the interview opening and closing stages). The investigative interview is part of an upstream (Cotterill, 2002) process and therefore what is documented here can and will influence subsequent stages. What may be a revelation to interpreters is that the police have undergone broad reforms, particularly in the way in which interviews are managed. Two major police interview models are introduced in this chapter: the PEACE model (born in the UK) and the Reid model (used in North America).

Chapter 3: This chapter paves the way for subsequent chapters, looking at specific interview approaches currently promoted in policing that now challenge us collectively to rethink how interpreters and police officers understand each other, our limitations as well as our potential for flexibility, in order to ensure a fair and just process. The authors provide examples of interpreter interventions and issues relating to the professional conduct of interpreters, along with “strategies to minimize unjustified interpreter intervention and highlight those aspects that can be monitored by the interviewer to maintain control and quality of the interview” (p.45). The authors support the stance that the officer should remain in control of their interview and the interpreter should uphold a non-interventionist approach.

Chapter 4: Continuing with the discussion around how best to navigate interviews via an interpreter, the authors explore issues around linguistic transfer, the tension between a sense-to-sense or word-for-word approach to interpreting. Linguistic transfer is interconnected with interpreting style, free or literal, and comes under heavy scrutiny because the law is very much concerned with how words are expressed, intended and their meaning interpreted. This chapter provides the reader with a collection of examples from courtroom interactions and police interviews to explain how minor changes can influence the rapport between a legal representative and citizen, the consequences of reshaping an active or passive status of a sentence, and how impressions or judgements are formulated by the way someone communicates.

Chapter 5: In the previous chapters the authors explained that interpreters make strategic decisions about how to convey meaning and ideas and limit their influence where possible. In this chapter the focus moves onto other interactional features or conventions that are affected by the interpreter’s presence such as managing turn taking, overlapping speech, reflecting any non-fluency and paralinguistic features. Once again they describe how the ‘third person in the room’ changes the interactional dynamics and ask what this means, specifically for officers undertaking an investigative interview.

Mulayim, Lai & Norma highlight how the lack of research in this area has meant inadequate training and preparation of interpreters before entering the police investigation. Interpreters are sometimes unaware of the questioning tactics employed by police officers and research has shown that ignorance on behalf of the interpreter can lead to damaging outcomes (Berk, 2009; Nakane, 2014). Likewise, police officers do not have the in-depth guidance to prepare them for the atypical nature of a police interview being conducted between a spoken and signed language.

What is not covered in this book is the use of additional professionals to facilitate the interview, for example interpreters who are deaf or deaf relays. The authors throughout the book put forward a strong argument for the least amount of intervention, underpinned by training and knowledge of the investigative interview context. I see a plethora of questions and challenges raised for the team of language professionals (deaf and hearing interpreters and/or relay) who need to collectively maintain this standard and approach where there is an added communication step. Although no solutions to this have been put forward, this book can still serve as a useful reference for professional discussion and learning.

If you are currently undertaking work in police settings, or considering entering this field, it is my recommendation to study this book from cover to cover. The book is accessible and offers useful, practical guidance on how both parties may work together to achieve best practice in police interview settings. Ultimately, this book is designed to help officers and interpreters understand each other better when placed in atypical and complex circumstances.


Berk, S. (2009). Coerced confessions : the discourse of bilingual police interrogations. de Gruyter.

Cotterill, J. (2002). Language in the legal process. Springer.

Nakane, I. (2014). Interpreter-mediated police interviews : a discourse-pragmatic approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

About proxinterpreting

Robert Skinner is a qualified British Sign Language/English interpreter registered with the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD). After more than 20 years of experience as an interpreter, Robert’s areas of specialism include: broadcast media (BBC News), video remote interpreting (with SignVideo), psychology, language processing, applied linguistics, mental health, community and international development. In 2007 Robert began to develop his research experience at Birkbeck (University of London) during completion of a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics. For his thesis, Robert conducted a typological study of BSL number variation in the UK: What Counts? A Typological and Descriptive Analysis of BSL Number Variation. This research documented four distinct BSL number systems and several sub-categories and led to Robert's employment as a researcher & in-house interpreter at the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), University College London. During his time at DCAL Robert worked closely with Gabriella Vigliocco’s lab on a series of signed language processing studies investigating the effects of iconicity (the imagistic properties of sign), for more information click here. As an interpreter at DCAL Robert worked alongside deaf academics in neurology (the Deaf Brain project), language development (the BSL McArthur Bates CDI), sign linguistics and the BSL Corpus Project. In 2009, whilst at DCAL, Robert completed an MSc in Research Methods in Experimental Psychology. For his thesis, Robert developed a phonological decision paradigm where participants were required to identify upward or downward movements within BSL production: We Have Lift Off: Iconic effects with Up/Down Motion. This study contributes to the embodied theory of language processing, having found a facilitation effect when the upward/downward movement itself was iconic. Between 2014 and 2016 Robert continued his work as a Research Associate at Heriot-Watt University. Here Robert contributed to three research projects: Insign, Justisigns and Translating the Deaf Self. Find Robert on Research Gate or Academia.
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