The courts in Malaga.
Their task is to translate for foreigners who are involved in legal proceedings. It doesn’t matter if the foreigner is accused of murder, rape, robbery with violence or drug trafficking. They go to the cells to offer interpreting services, something to which anybody from any other country who is involved in a judicial process in Spain is entitled, free of charge, in accordance with the Universal Charter of Human Rights.
They work with people who are charged with an offence, whether guilty or innocent, and also with victims. This is difficult work, which is part of their lives for 24 hours a day and is often also a type of psychological assistance. Crime doesn’t stick to office hours and the interpreters, like judges and police officers, are always on call.
Frédérique Robert, whose father is French and who was educated in Switzerland, is one of the most veteran court interpreters in Malaga province. She has seen the situation change from the good times, when the service was directly contracted by the Junta de Andalucía in 1998, to the present; in 2002 the service was taken over by the Offilingua company in Granada and all the interpreters are self-employed.
“The salaries have changed a great deal, but the work is the same. You have to go rushing off to places all over the province. I even carried on working when, during the change of company, we were told that we wouldn’t be paid”, explains Frédériqueover a coffee in Estepona, the town where she, like most of the interpreters in the province, chooses to live because it is strategically placed to reach many different places easily.
She has seen just about everything and her knowledge of four languages has resulted in her attending suspected French, English and German offenders all over Malaga province. She complements this work with assisting foreigners in communities of residents all over the province. Her most regular client in the courts, she says, is not a person.
“Alcohol. That is my best client in the courts. Without alcohol, many of these people would not have committed an offence. They would not have done what they have done. And there are also victims who, if they had not been drinking, would not have become victims. So in the majority of cases my work has also been to console the victim and the suspect in their own language”, she says.
One of the most recent services that Frédérique provided as an interpreter was to translate for a suspected British paedophile who was wanted in his own country. “I’m very friendly to everybody. You can’t think about what they have done. We cannot judge them. In this specific case, my work also included ringing a taxi to take him home, because he was released on bail. I offered him my services if he needed an interpreter in the future”, explains this multilingual interpreter, who says she is good at calming people down in extreme situations.
“I have nerves of steel. A short while ago I was interpreting for a couple who had been involved in an incident of domestic violence, and I managed to calm them down”, she explains. She has noticed a drop in the number of offences committed by foreigners whose language she speaks. “Many foreigners have gone home: there are fewer British and German people now, and most of the offences they commit involve violence in the home environment”, she says.
Mantener el tipo
Claudia Ion is Rumanian and one of the youngest interpreters in the province. She says the most usual offences in her language are related to drug trafficking. In her own country, she was a journalist and this new work has led her back to university: she is now studying Law.
“I still remember my first day at work. I cried all evening. I arrived at the courts and the police officer told me to accompany him to the cell. When I saw that man, staring me fixedly in the eyes, hanging on to the bars of the cell, I nearly collapsed. I said to my husband: “I can’t do this”. And that was six years ago”, she says.
“I have often cried, too”, says Said Sadki, who is from Casablanca (Morocco), and who works as an interpreter in Arabic at courts and police stations. He has worked at Offilingua since 2006 and he will never forget the sight of young Moroccans who had arrived in Spain hidden in lorries, frightened and alone.
“A good interpreter needs to be able to speak the language very well, act as a pyschologist, and not put themselves on the defensive with the people for whom they have to interpret. Sometimes they become tense or aggressive, and the lawyers have often asked me to talk to these people because they see that I can calm the situation down”, says Claudia, and Said says the same.
“Sometimes they become very defensive. You have to stay very calm, be very transparent, because you sometimes find that people who are interpreting are trying to impose their own criteria. You have to leave your personal critera to one side, and also affection.This work is very delicate. You have to transmit word by word exactly what the person has said, so you don’t jeopardise their situation”, he explains, recalling the best advice that can be given to the suspects: “Always tell the judge the truth”. “It is very important that you don’t look at them as if they are guilty”, adds Claudia.
“With the crisis”, says Said, “people’s rights to a professional interpreter are not always being granted. Recently, we have seen that they are using someone from the street, or a friend of the accused who can get by in Spanish, and they shouldn’t do that”.
In the courts in Malaga province, about 60 interpreters have attended 18,000 foreigners this year. Seprotec, the company that provides the service to police stations, has received requests for assistance with languages such as Tamil, Nepalese and Punjabi.