What legal protection really means for interpreting

October 23, 2019 posted by


We have an escape plan from the march of
the robots. Interpreters worldwide and in every individual country are going to
come together and demand protection of title so that only the right people can
become interpreters and so that you have to use interpreters in certain areas.
That is the future of interpreting. Or so say some. I’m dr. Jonathan Downie and this
is inside interpreting. There are a few more controversial topics in
interpreting than the idea that interpreting should be a legally
protected profession, like doctors and lawyers. And it sounds good on paper and
I understand perfectly the impetus behind it. No one wants to have their
profession challenged by people coming in in charging rubbish rates. No one
wants to have their profession challenged by people calling themselves
a title that they don’t deserve. No one wants unqualified people to do
interpreting that could risk lives and so from that point of view, legal
protection makes a whole lot of sense. And perhaps there are some merit in
the idea that interpreting should be protected, that interpreting should be a
title that people look up to, That being an interpreter should be as important, no
matter where you interpret, as being a lawyer or a judge or a policeman or a
police officer. There’s a dark side to legal protection
however and I say this advisedly. The first problem with legal protection,
which isn’t so much of a dark side but is leading you there, is the amount of
time and effort that would take to get there. Professions tended to get legal
protection in the days of the guild’s, when they could basically band together
and physically prevent anyone else from coming into their turf. It was a
protectionist stance. So in the modern age, it is very rare
for professions to get protection. Anyone can call themselves a cyber security
professional with no qualifications whatsoever. Anyone can call themselves an
IT manager even if they don’t know how to use the on button. The number of
professions with protection is relatively low compared to the number of
professions in total and it would take a huge amount of effort and a huge
amount of persuasion to get there and a huge amount of resources. Once it’s
in place, it would take a huge amount of management. On the most mercenary level,
professional association memberships would have to go through the roof just
to pay the admin costs, nevermind the lobbying cost, the continual lobbying
costs. And then we have to take into account that if you have legal protection
for a profession that means it’s protected by statute and the people who
create statutes and laws are, in any country, the government. Now I’m a fan
of good government. I really believe that we should respect our leaders and they
do an important job and we should look up to them because none of us have their
responsibilities. But who’s in the best place really to protect interpreting.
Interpreters and their associations who see interpreting day and understand the
concerns, understand the problems, know what a good client look like, know what a
bad client looks like ad understand the reason why great flexibility is so
important? Or government officials who day in and day out see administration and paperwork and
lobbying. To have legal protection of title for interpreters would mean
handing over the future of interpreting to government officials. It may be that a
benevolent government would do a wonderful job and would look after them
but the problem with legal protection of title is that it would be an open door for
governments to independently set and fix rates, set and fix conditions, set and
flex entry requirements. Oh I have no doubt that they would
listen to the profession but I also have no doubt that they would not ever give
the profession everything it asks for. That’s what governments do. I don’t think
the legal protection of title for interpreters is the panacea that
everyone says it is. In fact it may be a risk in itself. It’s something to
consider. I’m dr. Jonathan Downie and this is Inside Interpreting.

2 Comments
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2 Replies to “What legal protection really means for interpreting”

  1. Alexander Thomson says:

    Well argued.

  2. Johanna says:

    To protect interpreting as a profession is to protect the PEOPLE who needs and relies on the interpretation. It’s a matter of how the argument is presented.

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