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Gillies) Conference Interpreting


Conference Interpreting

‘Andrew Gillies’ book offers a fount of useful,

practical and fun exercises which students can do,

A great book for teachers and students alike to dip into

author of Conference Interpreting Explained Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book brings together a comprehensive compilation of tried and tested practical exercises which hone the sub-skills that make up conference interpreting

Unique in its exclusively practical focus,

Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book is a reference for students and teachers seeking to solve specic interpreting-related difculties

By breaking down the necessary skills and linking these to the most relevant and effective exercises,

students can target their areas of weakness and work more efciently towards greater interpreting competence

Split into four parts,

this Practice Book includes a detailed introduction offering general principles for effective practice drawn from the author’s own extensive experience as an interpreter and interpreter-trainer

The second,

section covers language enhancement at this very high level,

an area that standard language courses and textbooks are unable to deal with

The last two sections cover the key sub-skills needed to effectively handle the two components of conference interpreting: simultaneous and consecutive interpreting

Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book is not language-specic and as such is an essential resource for all interpreting students,

regardless of their language combination

Andrew Gillies is a freelance interpreter working primarily,

for EU and European Institutions in Brussels,

Paris and Munich

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Conference Interpreting A student’s practice book

Andrew Gillies

First published 2013 by Routledge 2 Park Square,

Milton Park,


Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 711 Third Avenue,

New York,

NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group,

an informa business © 2013 Andrew Gillies The right of Andrew Gillies to be identied as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright,

Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic,

now known or hereafter invented,

including photocopying and recording,

or in any information storage or retrieval system,

without permission in writing from the publishers

Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks,

and are used only for identication and explanation without intent to infringe

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Gillies,


pages cm Includes bibliographical references

Translating and interpreting–Study and teaching

Translators–Training of

G56 2013 418



Introduction About this book How to use this book

Part A: Practice How to practise Practice material Preparation Feedback

Part B: Language General knowledge Improving your passive languages Improving your active languages

43 56 63

Part C: Consecutive interpreting Delivery Active listening and analysis Memory and recall Note-taking Reformulation Self-monitoring Split attention






Part D: Simultaneous interpreting Delivery Split attention Time lag/Décalage Anticipation Reformulation Self-monitoring Stress management Glossary Bibliography Index


I wouldn’t have managed to complete this book without Tatiana’s help and patience

Thank you also to all the interpreters quoted in this book for their wonderful ideas and to all the interpreter trainers with whom I have discussed,

tested and tweaked these exercises

And to Cathy Pearson,

who gave me a shove just when it was needed

The publishers would like to thank St Jerome Publishing,

Le Monde,

The Guardian News and Media Limited,

The Independent Print Limited,

C Watt and Hasbro for permission to use their material

Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders

If any have been overlooked,

the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the rst opportunity

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This page intentionally left blank

About this book

Assuming Conference Interpreting is mainly a skill,

very much like one of the more difficult sports,

performed mainly by the interpreter’s brain,

it becomes important to realize that the most difficult exercises can only be performed by the interpreter if he can draw upon a solid reserve of automatic reflexes which allow him to free his mind for those parts of the interpretative process which need his fullest attention

Weber 1989: 162


despite the fact that it is often taught at universities,

it is far more akin to a craft or a sport

One cannot learn to interpret by going to a lecture (or reading a book) and understanding an explanation of how interpreting works

Interpreting is a skill or,

a combination of skills that one can explain and understand quite quickly,

but which take far longer to master in practice

In practice,

! This book offers some guidelines for effective practice and a compilation of practice exercises drawn from conference interpreting literature and teachers

As such it is meant as a resource for students and trainers looking for practice ideas

Though the book is directed primarily at students and teachers of conference interpreting,

it should also have much to offer those training for other types of interpreting – court,

There are a number of simple ideas underpinning this book

First is that mentioned above,

that to learn to carry out a skill we must practise,

Repeated practice of a skill allows us to internalize it,

arrive at a place where some part of what we are doing becomes automatic and we can complete the skill without giving it our full attention

This is particularly important in interpreting,

because the mental capacity freed up in this way will not go to waste

It will be put towards the other skills that go to make up interpreting


complex skills can be broken down into their component parts,

which can then be practised in isolation

Interpreting is a complex skill

It involves doing a number of different things at the same time,

some of them relatively simple,

In this book the skills that go to make up conference interpreting


have been split up and exercises offered for each one

Each of these skills may well be new to the would-be interpreter and it is useful to learn,

adding another only when the previous one has been mastered

By practising each skill in isolation you can concentrate on achieving the necessary degree of internalization for it without the distraction of trying to complete the other tasks at the same time

A competitive swimmer under the instruction of a qualied coach will regularly swim with a oat between their legs (thus immobilizing them) in order to concentrate on the arm movements alone


they will hold the oat in outstretched arms to focus on the correct leg movements

The techniques for turning around at the end of each length and breathing correctly are also practised in isolation

Only when adjustments to these elements have been made,

in isolation will those same adjustments be introduced to the full stroke

Isolating skills like this makes it possible to practise each one in a more focused way,

allowing you to arrive at a stage where you have internalized the skill,

you can complete it automatically (without too much thinking about it)

You can now direct the mental capacity thus freed up to one of the other tasks,

until that too becomes automatic,

Of course in practice the progression is never quite so deliberate and the isolation of skills never so exact and total,

particularly for simultaneous interpreting

Nevertheless the approach is still sound enough to be used as a complement to your other work

you don’t have to interpret to get better at interpreting

You will interpret,

But you don’t have to,

This is particularly true in the early stages,

when interpreting will be far too difcult for you and therefore potentially discouraging

But it is also true while interpreting,

when you come across particular problems that are difcult to address


We can practise the same skills in many different ways,

Using different exercises to practise the same skill can help bring a new angle to an old problem and therefore help us nd solutions where perhaps we had become stuck in a rut

Having a variety of exercises at our disposal will help us avoid boredom,

keep us on our toes and as a result keep us motivated in our quest to master the complex skill that is conference interpreting

A quest that is likely to take several years

The practice exercises included in this book have been suggested by interpreter trainers,

interpreters and student interpreters

taken from conference interpreting literature

Where an exercise has been taken directly from a published text,

I refer to the author,

year of publication and page number,

for example (Kalina 2000: 179),

and further information about that publication can then be found in the bibliography

In the case of exercises that are widely known,

or have been ‘invented’ independently by various people and appear in a published text of which I am aware,

the reference appears as follows: ‘also Sainz 1993: 139’

Where the works of several authors are cited in the same place,

About this book 5 order according to the publication date

Unpublished exercises that I can attribute to individual teachers are annotated with the name of the teacher in question,

There are no doubt also exercises that appear in conference interpreting literature that I have not read and are therefore not credited to any one author

My apologies to any author whose exercises are not properly credited to them here

Where the original mention of an exercise was overly concise,

I have elaborated,

on the aims and instructions for that exercise

Where essentially the same exercise is described slightly differently by different sources,

I have approximated the versions of that same exercise

And in some cases I have also suggested a number of variations on,

an exercise that the original source did not

Not all exercises in works cited in this book have been included here

For example,

where exercises were described unclearly in the original,

or appear to relate to types of interpreting other than conference interpreting,

they have not been included here

where exercises in other works are self-contained examples (eg

‘translate the following idioms’) that cannot obviously be repeated with other material,

they have also not been included here

In most cases I make no judgement on the effectiveness of any of the exercises,

on some of which interpreter trainers have strong and differing views

Empirical evidence on the subject is,

and if they work for you then that is good enough

The exercises can be done by students alone or with the help of a teacher

Some of the exercises involve more than one skill,

so by changing their focus they can be used to practise different things

As such there is some repetition in the list of exercises

Each exercise is also described so as to be applicable immediately without reference to other exercises

There is therefore also some repetition between similar exercises or variations on a single exercise in any given part of the book

The book does not address the principles of good interpreting (which are described elsewhere: Jones 1998

Seleskovich 1968 and 2002) but rather how to practise some of those principles that are generally held to be valid

This book is loosely based on an earlier publication,

Conference Interpreting – A Students’ Companion,

The fact that this work is unavailable outside Poland,

and the need to thoroughly update and revise it,

are behind this new publication

How to use this book

This book is not intended to be read from cover to cover but used as a reference work to be dipped into as and when necessary

And the exercises are meant as a complement to your normal interpreting practice,

Similar exercises are grouped together where possible,

but that doesn’t mean that you should do the exercises in the order they are presented here – this is not a course book

Nor should you try to do all of the exercises in the book – that’s probably not even possible

perhaps in consultation with a teacher,

what skills you need to work on and then you can look up practice exercises for those skills here

Interpreter trainers looking for ideas to help students with a given skill can turn to the appropriate section of the book or check the index to nd a suitable exercise

Where possible,

similar exercises within each chapter have been grouped together,

so do browse back and forth either side of the exercise you’re looking at

The exercises are not ranked by effectiveness

They are organised thematically and if you want an opinion on the effectiveness of any exercise you should speak to your teachers

Neither are they organized as being suitable for beginners,

intermediate or advanced students,

because these labels are difcult to ascribe reliably to interpreting students who will experience different problems at different stages of their courses

You might be relatively advanced in one skill while struggling with another,

while your colleague who started at the same time as you has the opposite skill-set

How to use this book

The four main sections of the book,

C and D,

are divided into a number of sub-skills

For example,



Note-taking etc

so if you’re looking for exercises to practise analysis in consecutive you should turn to section C,

where you’ll nd exercises designed to practise that specic skill


Introduction About this book How to use this book

Part A: Practice How to practise Practice material Preparation Feedback

Part B: Language General knowledge Improving your passive languages Improving your active languages

43 56 63

Part C: Consecutive interpreting Delivery Active listening and analysis Memory and recall Note-taking Reformulation Self-monitoring Split attention





Part D: Simultaneous interpreting Delivery Split attention Time lag/Décalage Anticipation Reformulation Self-monitoring Stress management

Glossary Bibliography Interpreter trainers Index

How to use this book


you’ll nd an index at the back of the book which lists all the exercises by skill targeted and which also tells you the type of exercise – spoken,

text-based etc – and the number of people needed to do it

Technical terms relating to conference interpreting are marked with an asterisk and explained in the Glossary at the back of the book

Notes numbered in the text will be found at the end of each Part

Notes 1

The isolation of component skills during practice and training is also advocated in Weber 1989: 162

Van Dam 1989: 168

Seleskovitch and Lederer 1989: 133

MoserMercer 1994: 66

ELTA: English Language Teaching to Adults

For a detailed description of the limited experimental data available see Pöchhacker 2004: 184


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How to practise

One cannot achieve a high level of competence in interpreting only by attending time-tabled interpreting classes

That’s why students have to practise outside class time

Five days per week is a reasonable timetable

That’s often enough to mean you never get out of practice,

and you continue getting better

But practising a lot doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to some rest time

may be better than one session of one hour

And that one hour per day for a week is denitely better than seven hours practice on one day and nothing for the rest of the week

you probably love interpreting

And if you have the choice between doing any type of course work or practice and actually interpreting,

you will choose interpreting every time

But practice does not have to be interpreting to be useful

So treat yourself to non-interpreting practice activities on a regular basis

You’ll nd plenty of them in this book

or practise some but not all of them at the same time

This is the concept underlying much of this book

So read on

Weber 1989: 164

Seleskovitch and Lederer 1989: 133

Moser-Mercer 1994: 66

Gillies 2001: 66

Part A – Practice

For example,

‘Today (or this week) I’m going to concentrate on good delivery

’ Early in the course the skills you practise should probably reect the content of your lessons

Many courses,

teach delivery and memory skills rst and,

You can practise a new skill in each practice session or for a few days or weeks at a time

This also has the advantage of giving you interim goals to aim at and achieve

This allows you to see progress being made,

which is likely to increase your motivation levels,

not least of all because progress in interpreting as a whole is very difcult to see over short periods

You might notice an improvement between January and April,

but it is unlikely that you’ll see a tangible improvement in your work from one week to the next


if you practise delivery skills in isolation,

you can make signicant and visible progress in a matter of days or weeks

Source: Gillies 2001: 66

Learning comes not only from doing,

but from thinking about what you’ve done

Only you can actually learn,

If you recognise that you are tiring,

then your interpreting has probably already been less than your best for 10–15 minutes

So stop

! This doesn’t apply to class and exam situations,

where you will just have to battle through

That’s also part of interpreting

But if you’re practising,

it’s best to stop and come back to it when you’ve had a break

Anything less than 100 per cent and you will not produce your best performance

So don’t practise if you don’t want to

And if you nd that you don’t want to practise all that often,

then you know that interpreting isn’t for you

when you are comfortable with that,

and if you have a second active language,

start practising interpreting into that language

Practise all of your language combinations

Source: Déjean Le Féal

EMCI 2002: 28

How to practise

working in groups is more fun than working alone or in class

Groups should be of 2–4 people for consecutive1: you’ll need at least one speaker and one interpreter

in consecutive the speaker can double as the audience

For simultaneous,

groups should be of 3–6 people

You need more people for simultaneous because the speaker cannot listen to the interpreting as they can in consecutive

That means you’ll need one speaker,

one interpreter and one listener to make a group

There are a number of advantages to practising in groups rather than alone or only in class time

Working with other students and preparing speeches for one another means that you will have plenty of practice material (speeches) to interpret and that they will be pitched at the right level of difculty

Speeches that student interpreters give tend to be simpler in structure,

logic and vocabulary than authentic speeches and this is as it should be for the rst part of your course

Start simple and work up

Preparing and giving the speeches is also useful for you and shouldn’t be considered simply an exercise in altruism

As you’ll see in the exercises below,

creating speeches is an exercise in understanding speech structure and note-taking,

while giving a speech trains note-reading and publicspeaking skills in isolation

Work with a variety of other students,

not only your best friend on the course

That way you are also less likely to develop bad habits or get too used to the same speaker and speech type

your own interpreting performance is to listen to and assess those of your fellow students

It’s easier because when you are interpreting and trying to listen to yourself you’re doing several things at once,

including monitoring your performance

Here you are only listening and assessing,

Always listen with particular criteria in mind

do the main points make sense,

is the language register appropriate

? And try to listen for only one or two of these criteria,

and not always all of them at once

Listening to others is also useful because most students make similar mistakes and a limited number of types of mistakes

So the person you’re listening to probably has some of the same interpreting problems as you


simultaneous interpreting can and should also be practised alone from recorded material (and with a dictaphone to record yourself)

consecutive can also be practised in this way if needs must

But the reactions of others,

and the opportunity to listen to their work yourself,

Source: Heine 2000: 223

Part A – Practice

and no-one to listen to the interpreting

Resist it

! Don’t all go into the booths and interpret just because booths are free

Listeners can listen to only the interpreter,

or to the interpreter and original speech simultaneously

both are valid and useful exercises

And that means that their assessment of your interpreted version of a speech is inuenced by their knowledge of the source language and/or their understanding of the original speech

That’s often very useful of course,

but you need not always work with a listener who understands the source language

It is very useful to have a ‘real’ listener who ‘needs’ the interpreter to understand the speech

Afterwards ask them simply whether they understood what was being said

Their questions about what was not clear are often extremely helpful in highlighting the major problem areas,

as opposed to the minor errors that listeners who understand both the source and the target languages tend to highlight

Other people – family,

anyone who can be roped in to listen – will do

These listeners will often be more demanding and perhaps more perceptive in their analysis of your work than you are

At the very least they will offer a different point of view on it

Whether it’s fellow students or other people who are listening,

the fact of having someone listen to you is important

Interpreting is about communicating between people,

something one can forget when practising alone from recorded speech after recorded speech

Practice material

The type of speech you use to practise interpreting can make,

Interpreters don’t (barring rare exceptions) interpret newspaper articles or PhD theses,

they interpret spoken discourse in certain very specic contexts

You should seek to use the same types of speeches and recreate the same types of situations


a speech that is too difcult is not useful

It will demoralize you and not give you the opportunity to work on the skills you are learning

A speech that is too easy,

Don’t just try to interpret the rst thing that you lay your hands on

Think about the material you practise with – for your own sake and that of your fellow students

Take this into account when looking for speeches and the texts of speeches

Debates in national parliaments,

are never interpreted consecutively,

whereas ceremonial openings of new buildings often are

If possible choose the type of speech that might have been interpreted in consecutive

for example… After-dinner speeches at banquets or to open receptions are a classic example

the opening of a cultural event held at a centre like the British Council or Goethe Institute

the opening of a French supermarket in Poland,

or the launch of a German boat in Korea

It could be a foreign winner of an award making an acceptance speech in their own language,

or a composer’s 70th birthday at the Philharmonic

Gillies 2005: 3

The texts of these speeches can often be found on the websites of government ministries,

Speeches by ambassadors or embassy staff are particularly well suited since they are very often given by a person of one

Part A – Practice

nationality to those of another,

and some type of communication between cultures is being attempted

Try to avoid speeches of more than two pages of A4,

which is already quite a long speech

If you’re looking for speeches on national ministry websites you’ll nd that it is often not the minister themselves,

but the lower ranking ministers,

who give these sort of speeches

When preparing speeches yourself,

try to mimic these situations and types of speeches

Example Members of AustCham,

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening,

almost 25 years to the day since I arrived in Hong Kong as a young diplomat for language training before I started my first posting at the Australian ConsulateGeneral in Hong Kong


Australian Ambassador to China Speech to China-Australia Chamber of Commerce 27th October 2011 http://www

Source: Gillies 2005: 3

By this I mean that debates in national parliaments are not suitable for the rst week of a course,

indeed the rst half of the course,

because they are too difcult and too fast

News broadcasts,

which many student interpreters seem to fall back on,

are not suitable for interpretation at all

They bear little relation to what is interpreted by working interpreters in that the content varies wildly every 60 seconds

it is written language being read out

much denser than the spoken word,

because news programmes are trying to pack as much as possible into a limited time slot

Be aware also that most of the authentic recorded speeches available on the internet are far too difcult for all but the later stages of your course

Don’t hesitate to ask your teacher for their opinion about the degree of difculty of the material you’re using for practice

And in all things start with the simple and work upwards

Practice material 17 Graduation of speech difficulty according to Seleskovitch and Lederer The following classification of difficulty might serve as a general guide: • • • • • • • • •

narrative speech on a familiar topic argumentative speech on a familiar topic narrative speech on a new topic argumentative speech on a new topic stylistically sophisticated speech on a familiar topic stylistically sophisticated speech on a new topic topic requiring preparation descriptive speech requiring terminological preparation rhetorical speech Seleskovitch and Lederer 1995: 53

Graduation of speech difficulty according to Lederer Subject progression: • • •

Speech type progression: • • • •

narrative argumentative descriptive expressive Lederer 2001: 177

Examples One of the best places to nd a ‘narrative on a familiar subject’ is in a fairytale

Get someone to tell a fairytale that the listener does not already know

(This works best if you are lucky enough to be in a very multi-national group with different traditional fairytales

) The ‘interpreter’ listens and then retells the story

Of course,

you will quickly run out of material and you’ll need to move on to more conventional ‘narratives’,

Part A – Practice

The following speech,

on the Deepwater Horizon oil-platform disaster in 2012,

might be considered a ‘narrative on a familiar subject’ according to the Seleskovitch and Lederer scale above,

or as ‘practical’ and ‘narrative’ according to the Lederer scale

‘Narrative’ because it tells the story of events and the President’s movements

‘familiar’ because anyone reading the newspapers in 2010 would have seen countless articles on this subject

and ‘practical’ because it describes events in straightforward,

So this speech could be considered as relatively easy practice material

Good evening

As we speak,

our nation faces a multitude of challenges

At home,

our top priority is to recover and rebuild from a recession that has touched the lives of nearly every American


our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al Qaeda wherever it exists

And tonight,

I’ve returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast to speak with you about the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens

On April 20th,

an explosion ripped through BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig,

about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana

Eleven workers lost their lives

Seventeen others were injured

And soon,

nearly a mile beneath the surface of the ocean,

oil began spewing into the water

Barack Obama,

US President 15 June 2010 http://www


The following speech,

could be considered difcult because,

according to the Seleskovitch and Lederer scale above,

it is ‘high register’ and/ or ‘expressive rhetoric’

According to the Lederer scale it would also be difcult because it is ‘abstract’ and ‘expressive’

We gather every year in Heerstraße,

and in Commonwealth Cemeteries across the world,

to remember those who fought and fell in combat

We gather today in solemnity and with dignity to contemplate the sacrifice of those who went before,

a sacrifice which ensured that we meet today in freedom and with hope

In this cemetery are interred the remains of soldiers,

sailors and airmen from the United Kingdom,



New Zealand,

South Africa,

We honour their memory

Simon McDonald,

British Ambassador to Germany 13 November 2011 http://ukingermany

Practice material 19 If you nd yourself getting into difculties with a certain type of speech,

go back to a simpler type and start again from there

Be considerate also of your fellow students

When preparing speeches for each other for practice sessions,

think about whether the speech is reasonable or not,

because unreasonable is also unhelpful

Likewise if your colleague has asked to concentrate on one skill in isolation,

for example good intonation during delivery,

then a slower speech will be more useful than a very fast one

If you want to experiment with a longer time-lag1 or new ideas for reformulation,

a simpler speech will be more helpful

So I consider the transcripts of speeches as much a part of practice material as spoken speeches themselves

You will probably do more exercises from texts in the early part of your course than later

Try to use the texts of speeches that were actually spoken rather than newspaper or magazine articles,

which have a different structure and purpose

But be aware that written speeches are often written down before they are spoken,

! As such they can sometimes be dense and difcult

The texts of these speeches can often be found on the websites of government ministries,

articlesarticles and and Speeches,

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Howwe can help Worl< ir

EmOassy History Other locat ions

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Creating growth in mature economies: A British perspective,

opens in new w indow) Initiative HauptstadtfnJhstiick: Is the euro threaten ing to break up

Part A – Practice

be aware that in the course of an interpreter’s work not all texts are equally likely to be translated on sight

Newspaper articles,

are very rarely translated in this way

Formal statements,

resolutions and press releases,

Use these types of text when practising

You can also ask your teachers what other types of text they sight translate when working

That is not to say that you won’t be asked by your teachers to sight translate other types – with good pedagogical reasons – but in your own practice stick to those types of text most often translated on sight in the real world

Your teacher is unlikely to have time to prepare speeches for all your practice sessions,

so the sooner you get into preparing them yourself the better

Use a speech transcript as a starting point,

noting down the main arguments and points

Add some of your own information,

and then put the transcript away and give the speech from your notes

You will most likely have a much simplied version of the original that will make ideal practice material for your colleagues

You will need: a piece of paper,

Take the transcript of a short speech,

or part of a speech (not longer than one page of A4),

and lay it out next to a blank page of A4 on which there is only a vertical line about a quarter of the way across,

dividing the page from the left

In the left-hand column created on the blank page note what you think is the function of that part of the speech

(For a more detailed description of structure maps see C

44 and C

In the right hand column note a minimum of information that will help you to recreate the speech

When you’ve done that,

put away the original speech and try to recreate the speech from the structure map

Practice material 21 Example

I want to make one very simple point in this speech

To the police,

local authorities – we’ve listened,

You’ve got new powers to deal with nuisance neighbours – use them

You’ve got new powers to deal with abandoned cars – use them

You’ve got new powers to give fixed penalty fines for anti-social behaviour – without going through a long court process,

The new legislation,

the ASB Unit in the Home Office,

this Action Plan we launched today has been two years in the making

In this time,

I have visited many estates and talked to local people about their concerns

Two things emerged

ASB is for many the number one item of concern right on their doorstep – the graffiti,

abuse from truanting school-age children


though many of these things are in law a criminal offence,

it is next to impossible for the police to prosecute without protracted court process,

when conviction will only result in a minor sentence

Hence these new powers to take swift,

The FPNs were piloted in four local areas

Over 6000 fines were issued

The only complaint of the police was that the powers weren’t wide enough

So we have listened,

and made them from early next year when the Bill becomes law,

Tony Blair,

PM of UK October 2003