Research shows foreign nationals are treated unfairly during police interviews


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Foreign language speakers may be subject to poor interviewing techniques during interviews with the police in the UK when an interpreter is present, according to a study conducted at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

New research conducted by DMU’s School of Law shows that when interviewing foreign language speakers with an interpreter, officers ask significantly more inappropriate questions compared to non-interpreted interviews.

Lauren Wilson, a PhD student at Leicester De Montfort Law School, examined a sample of 12 authentic interpreted interviews with victims and suspects of human sex trafficking in the UK.

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Leicester De Montfort Law School

These were then compared to a sample of 12 authentic monolingual interviews (not interpreted) of human sex trafficking and sexual assault.

“My findings show that the mere presence of an interpreter can lead to the interviewer changing their questioning strategy,” explained Lauren. “They ask more leading and even forced choice questions. All of these question types can prompt inaccurate testimonies”. 

The interview questions were assessed using an established coding framework known as the Griffiths Question Map (GQM), which identifies whether questions are appropriate or inappropriate in collecting accurate and detailed information during interviews.

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Lauren Wilson, PhD student at DMU

“Languages do not always have direct correlations with each other – there are a lot of phrases or terms that do not exist in other languages,” said Lauren.

“When there is a complex sentence structure in the original language, as is often the case with inappropriate question types, it is understandably more difficult to translate and this increases the likelihood of misunderstanding.

“Police officers and interpreters therefore need to be aware of the impact that any bias they hold – and the language complexity they use – can have on the quality of the interview.”

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Lauren was awarded a prize for her work at the prestigious International Investigate Interviewing Research Group conference in Norway in earlier this year.

Her supervisor, Professor Dave Walsh, said: “Police interviews in England and Wales with victims, witnesses and suspects have one common goal. That is, to establish a fulsome and reliable account.

“Lauren’s pioneering research highlights the risks to that goal prompted by certain interview techniques as well as interpretations, which might distort those techniques. Her research has the potential to impact positively upon practice in order to assist the course of justice for those whose first language is not English.”

Posted on Monday 28th October 2019

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