The Swedish Agency for Public Management

Seven proposals for the more effective use of interpreters in court (2015:1)

In February 2014, the Government commissioned Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) to consider and propose measures to improve the courts' use of existing interpreter and translator resources to ensure that the interpreters and translators used in court are as qualified as possible.

In order to provide relevant and realistic proposals that might be effective, Statskontoret has performed an in-depth empirical analysis of how the courts use interpreters and translators. We have then drawn up proposals for measures in a broad dialogue with the actors concerned.

In our investigation we have consulted the Swedish National Courts Administration and the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet). The Swedish National Courts Administration has contributed in a variety of ways and served as an important means of support in our investigation.

The courts are taking unnecessary risks

Statskontoret's investigation shows that the need for interpreters in Swedish courts is great. This need has grown in recent years and today interpretation is regarded as a natural element of the courts' day-to-day work. Every month, between 2000 and 3000 proceedings are interpreted in court.

Our investigation also notes that the courts make use of many interpreters who are not authorised. On average, every third proceeding takes place without the interpreting skills specified as standard in the Code of Judicial Procedure. This means that the courts are taking unnecessary risks and that errors may arise, thus jeopardising the legal security of individuals.

Since the availability of authorised interpreters in Sweden is unevenly distributed, these risks are greater in some parts of the country. This means that not all legal cases have equivalent conditions.

One fundamental problem is the highly limited availability of qualified interpreters in Sweden. Of the approximately 6000 interpreters practising in Sweden, just over 1000 are authorised. The investigation shows, however, that there are other explanations for why the courts do not have greater access to authorised interpreters. Among these, Statskontoret notes:

  • Court personnel lack the necessary knowledge of interpretation and of what applies when using interpreters.
  • There is a lack of effective procedures for engaging qualified interpreters.
  • Video interpretation is not used sufficiently. The technology also has certain limitations and this has an adverse effect on its use.
  • The framework agreement for interpreting agency services is perceived as complicated and is not always used as intended.

Errors and deficiencies in interpretation and interpreting agency services are not always identified and thus cannot be rectified sufficiently quickly.

Proposed measures

Statskontoret believes that there is no individual measure that can resolve the entire problem. The best possible result requires a variety of measures, both minor and more extensive. The sum of these improvements can jointly contribute to a more effective use of the interpreter resources in Sweden. There is also value in coordinating and synchronising these efforts in order to generate sufficient energy for change.

Statskontoret's proposals for measures:

Governing through supporting the courts: To help the courts to work more effectively and uniformly, Statskontoret proposes that the Government commissions the Swedish National Courts Administration to formulate guidelines for the courts regarding the use of interpreters.

Development of technical solutions: Statskontoret proposes that the Government commissions the Swedish National Courts Administration to develop and expand video technology in the courts so that it does not prevent interpreters from being elsewhere while interpreting.

Enhance the knowledge of court personnel: Statskontoret proposes that the Government commissions the Swedish National Courts Administration to develop and arrange training in order to enhance the knowledge of court personnel.

Develop administrative support systems: Statskontoret believes that it must become easier for the courts to call-off interpreting services and that they should do so in a more uniform manner. Statskontoret therefore proposes the Government's commissioning of Kammarkollegiet to develop a call-off portal for interpreting services. In the short term, the Swedish National Courts Administration should develop forms for call-offs in the Vera support system.

New, but still joint agreement: Statskontoret proposes that until further notice Kammarkollegiet is responsible for the central government framework agreement for interpreting agency services. However, Kammarkollegiet should already commence the preliminary work to develop a new framework agreement. This should take into account the particular circumstances that apply to interpreting services, in a better way.

Enhanced follow-up and evaluation: Statskontoret proposes that Kammarkollegiet better adapts its follow-up and evaluation of the framework agreement to the particular conditions that exist so as to prevent lasting problems and errors. The courts also need to enhance their work in reporting deviations and errors. Without these reports, it is difficult for Kammarkollegiet to implement any measures.

Better coordination of issues relating to interpreters: Statskontoret proposes that courts with a high use of interpreters appoint a coordinator for issues relating to interpreters. This coordinator is important as to disseminate knowledge and information, to support the courts' work with interpreters, as well as to serve as a link between other actors on issues regarding interpreters.