Australian legal interpreters are breathing a sigh of relief. The Australian government has reversed a plan to slash funding for legal aid and community legal centres, which would include cuts to interpreting services. Interpreters have been fighting a perception that providing interpretation services to people who have partial English skills, such as older migrants or Indigenous people, is somehow giving them an unfair advantage in the legal system. While someone may be able to manage with day to day shopping, or banking they do not have the vocabulary and nuanced language skills necessary to understand legal proceedings and therefore receive a fair trial.
An important precedent has been set in accepting that having adequate and competent interpretation – and full understanding – is equivalent to the principle of the accused having to be physically present. A key victory is funding maintenance for interpreters for victims of domestic violence.
However, there is still work to be done on improving quality of service in Australia. A recent case showed a conviction resulting from an interpreter failing to translate the very clear and calm testimony of an accused. By “hemming, hawing and hedging” in his translation, the interpreter was found to have made the accused seem evasive and deceptive.
Want to read more? Legal fairness demands protection of the right to interpreters