The discontent of interpreters and translators for justice and the police: “They are sometimes paid 10 euros gross per hour for half a day”

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Tired of hearing only promises, tired of waiting for concrete solutions, the sworn interpreters and translators ceased, as of this morning, to work for the police and the justice system.

No need to call them for a terrorist threat from the Middle East, the dismantling of cocaine trafficking from South America, human trafficking from Mali or the arrest of Chechen robbers: no interpreter would come. Overnight, we wouldn’t get very far. Police and justice found themselves deaf and blind. In other words, paralyzed.

Foretold disaster

Of course, that won’t happen. “We are professionals”, reassures Henri Boghe, of the Union of sworn translators and interpreters. Especially since the UPTIJ is rather benevolent towards the current minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, whom it has seen that he is trying to satisfy their first demand: to pay their benefits more quickly. While progress has been made for sworn interpreters in the districts of Liège, Namur and Eupen in particular, the situation remains problematic for those, for example, who depend on the Dutch-speaking tax office in Brussels.

Henry Boghe: “Colleagues have only just been paid for their services for the month of January and others have been pending for four months. Their monthly invoices are often blocked due to a different interpretation of the tariff regulations by this office compared to other districts”.

Dari, Pashtun and Sorani

It’s not the only problem. Spokesperson for the UPTIJ, Henri Boghe points to the glaring lack of sworn interpreters and translators that are really available everywhere. “It is extremely difficult for the police, investigating judges and courts at all levels to find interpreters to assist with interrogations in foreign languages. And I am not even talking about Sorani, Pashtun or Dari. There is difficulty in finding interpreters for the common languages, English, French and Dutch. In Brussels, the justice system must constantly ask interpreters to come from Flanders, and therefore to travel, to come and interpret sometimes for less than an hour.”

In theory, 2,500 sworn interpreters and translators are registered in the national register of the FPS-Justice.

Except that for the UPTIJ, barely 500 would really be available full-time, the vast majority of the 2,500 being registered only to benefit from the title which makes it possible to practice in the private sector, which is much more attractive.

Half day at 41.53 euros

We find Henri Boghe the day before the hearing in the council chambers in Brussels of the Sky ECC affair, this huge dossier which the press has talked about. The day before the hearing, there were still no Dutch-French interpreters. Via the ‘Convocation service for interpreters and translators’, the president of the court of first instance had been desperately looking for one for twelve days. And none answered. And it is so very regularly.

Henri Boghe explains the lack of interest by the fact that the SPF-Justice “does not offer a correct and fair remuneration system”. The hour of service is paid 58.63 euros gross. Of course, the price seems interesting.

Except that you have to take accommodations into account. From the second performance in the same morning (and it’s the same for the afternoon), the interpreter is paid by the minute of actual performance. Canceled hearings are not taken into account either (thus when the defendant has not been released from prison, if a magistrate is missing, etc.). “In this case, which is frequent, the interpreter who had blocked the morning, or the afternoon, and had moved to the palace, ends the day with 41.53 euros gross of cancellation compensation”.

This system is, for the UPTIJ, “the greatest frustration facing the entire profession”. The source of all problems. “With this system, it may happen that the interpreter is finally paid 10 euros gross per hour for having made himself available for a whole morning or afternoon which, additional precision, ends at midnight. Of these amounts , the interpreter will of course still have to pay his taxes and social security contributions.”

13,000 auditions, 67 performers

Police and justice, however, have never called on them so much. In 2021, the presence of an interpreter was required at 12,259 Salduz hearings. And 13,120, in 2022. Including 4,961, or almost 40%, in Brussels. Brussels where there are barely 67 interpreters actually available for the French-Dutch combination.

And that’s not all. Their working conditions, continues Henri Boghe, are not comfortable. If the interpreter in the private sector usually knows in advance the subject he will be dealing with, this facility is excluded in legal matters. The criminal interpreter, moreover, usually works alone. And while they have beautiful soundproof booths in private, the interpreters in the service of justice operate in courtrooms with appalling acoustics, with magistrates and lawyers who are used to speaking quickly. . And while judges and lawyers have prepared the case, the interpreter is the only one in the room who knows nothing about the case in advance.

They, the forgotten

In 2021, the ‘interpreters in criminal matters’ budget of the FPS-JUSTICE amounted to 15,316,890 euros.

Up 12%, in 2022 it was 17,121,384 euros. Including more than 6.2 million euros for interpreters assigned to wiretapping.

And yet, sworn interpreters and translators feel left behind. We are forgotten, deplores the Professional Union of Sworn Translators and Interpreters, which brings together 350 professionals. “We are regularly overlooked in the consultations organized by the minister on important projects, such as the future organization of hearings by videoconference or the holding of council chambers in prisons. We are primarily concerned and no one at Van Quickenborne thinks of invite us to work meetings”, summarizes Henri Boghe.

Without them, it’s simple, justice can do nothing. It would be police and judicial chaos. Belgium would flout human rights which give everyone the right to be judged in their own language.

Linked to a situation that has been known and repeated for years, the grumbling of justice interpreters and translators has reached its peak today.


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