Interpreting in a Modern slavery and Human trafficking setting


Before we begin, we would like to thank all our contributors who are happy to share their interpreting experiences with us. What follows is the experience of one former ISL student.


I finished my DCI with ISL back in 2018, and I am infinitely grateful to International School of Linguists for all the support I was provided during my studies. This course enabled me to experience what I am about to share.


Some months ago, I was approached through one agency to interpret on a human trafficking and modern slavery case for the National Crime Agency (NCA).


What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain.


What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labour or commercial sex act. Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labour or commercial sexual exploitation.


I was asked if I will be available to interpret in 3 days’ time, and the starting time would be very early in the morning. I checked my diary and noted that I was free on that day. I said to myself: “Yes, my first job with NCA!” I asked what time I will be required. I was asked to arrive at X Police station for 04.30am, and told that I should be prepared to work a very long day. On the day in question, I woke up very early because this assignment was 2 hours away from my home. I arrived at X Police station at 4:15 am and I reported to Police staff. I was taken to one small room where I was introduced to another two interpreters of the same language.  At 05:00am, we were taken to a room, full of uniformed and plain-clothed officers, so we could be briefed about the upcoming operation.


Every operation has its own name, which is chosen randomly. I was informed that I would be interpreting for a suspect, and a further two interpreters would be interpreting for victims.


After the briefing, which lasted about 30 minutes, I was driven in a police van to a location where the suspect and all the victims lived. The Police forced entry and I was taken to a room where the suspect was sleeping. The other two interpreters were taken to rooms where the victims were sleeping.


The police officers asked the suspect his name and to see his ID documents. After a short discussion, the suspect was given a police caution and he was taken to a police station where he was to be interviewed. Every person in the UK has a right for free independent legal advice which can be provided over the phone or in a person. The suspect can request a duty solicitor, or he/she can provide the details of their own solicitor firm.

After the suspect was brought to police custody, he was searched and asked for a duty solicitor. The duty solicitor arrived about two hours later.


The duty solicitor had a brief discussion with the DC in charge and then I was asked to interpret the consultation between the suspect and duty solicitor. Police are not allowed to be present during this private conversation. It is strictly confidential, and the interpreter is not allowed to reveal to the police any information which was exchanged during this consultation.


The duty solicitor’s role is to listen to the suspect’s account and then provide him/her with appropriate advice of answering (or not answering) the Police’s questions. To answer the questions means that the suspect will give his/her account. This will be an opportunity for a suspect to provide the police with their defence to criminal charges.


There may be circumstances in which a suspect with a defence nevertheless exercises their right to remain silent. If the suspect is advised not to answer police questions,  it means, that after giving his name, surname, date of birth, address and answering all three questions after the caution, the suspect will reply to every single question with two words: No comment.


An alternative to a suspect answering police questions would be the use a prepared statement. Following the consultation, a decision might be made that it is more appropriate for suspect set out his/her defence in a written statement that can be read out by his/her legal adviser at the start of the interview, which also means that the suspect will be advised not to answer any questions. The solicitor or legal adviser will draft the statement for suspect in accordance with his/her instructions. It will be designed to mention all of the necessary information to reduce the risk in one form or another if the suspect is charged.


If a suspect later faces trial for an allegation, a Magistrates or Crown Court jury might be asked to draw conclusions about the truthfulness of any account given.


To be continued….