Demand fairness in the justice system: Improve court interpreting conditions now

Demand fairness in the justice system: Improve court interpreting conditions now

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AUSIT Australian Institute of Interpreters & Translators started this petition to Attoney-General's Department and

In multilingual Australia, it is essential for courts to work with high quality interpreting services. However, the justice system cannot deliver procedural fairness unless it improves the conditions in which interpreting services are provided. Basic conditions, such as briefings, regular breaks, adequate working space and appropriate equipment to perform simultaneous interpreting are currently denied or not provided, leading many qualified interpreters to refuse to work in court settings.

The Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals (RNS) describe interpreters as “officers of the court” who are integral to putting non-English speakers in the same position as English speakers when dealing with the justice system. The RNS outline the conditions required for interpreters to perform their duty to a satisfactory level. These requirements are basic, common sense and easily implementable. However, three years after the publication of the RNS (and a decade after the AIJA national survey on Interpreter Policies, Practices and Protocols in Australian Courts and Tribunals), the recommendations have not yet been consistently implemented.

The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) says it is time for these recommendations to be implemented in civil and criminal jurisdictions across the country, so that procedural fairness—whatever the language—is truly possible. We call on the Federal and State/Territory Ministers, Departments of Attorney Generals and Justice, on court administrators and Language Service Providers (LSPs) to implement the conditions to support the required quality interpreting in our courts and tribunals.

Join us in this call for the systematic implementation of:

  • Briefings before the case commences (essential for interpreters to prepare for their work, understanding the context and detail in which they will be working)
    • Information about the case must be provided to the LSP at the point of booking the interpreter, and the LSP must provide this to the interpreter/s as soon as they are confirmed.
    • Failing the above, courts and tribunals must make time before the case starts for the prosecution in a criminal case or the applicant’s lawyer in a civil case, to brief the interpreter. AUSIT can assist with providing a guide to the type of information which is essential.
  • Interpreters to work in pairs in hearings over two hours and in all trials.
    • When a defendant/accused does not understand English, interpreters must render everything said in court into the other language, simultaneously. The cognitive and physical effort of this activity makes it impossible for one interpreter to provide accurate interpreting when working on their own.
    • In these circumstances, two interpreters must be engaged to work jointly and to provide all services required in the same languages (i.e. link interpreters to the court, not the number of Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)-speakers as happens currently).
  • Access to the court’s hearing loops (required for audio quality for simultaneous interpreting)
    • Court/tribunal rooms where interpreting is required should have working hearing loops.
    • Hearing loops should be given to interpreters before the case commences without the need for interpreters to request them.
  • Access to simultaneous interpreting equipment, allowing service provision at an appropriate distance
    • Currently, interpreters in criminal proceedings must work simultaneously by whispering into the accused’s ear, as no equipment is made available to support this essential mode. COVID-19 has highlighted how dangerous and inappropriate this practice is.
    • A range of solutions are readily available, including portable radio transmitters/receivers commonly used by tour guides in Australia and already implemented for court interpreting in the USA. These are inexpensive wireless devices that each court could purchase as part of their technical requirements.
  • A work-station within the court where the interpreter can sit comfortably, with a desk and access to the internet to consult terminology if needed
    • This could be a table and chair in a corner of the court. In other countries, interpreters have a permanent desk in front of the judge or at the bar table.
    • Interpreters need to be allowed to access their mobile devices to consult the internet regarding any potential translation difficulty. If such devices are not allowed, the court should make a computer with internet access available to all interpreters.
  • Regular breaks
    • Breaks of at least 5 minutes should be scheduled every 45 minutes without the need for interpreters to request them, especially when interpreters work alone.
  • Access to all written material to be sight translated
    • A copy of any document that will be read out in court must be provided to the interpreters so they can sight translate it. The person reading it should read it slowly so that the interpreter can keep up, as it takes much longer to translate to another language than to simply read in the source language.

AUSIT calls for these basic conditions to be implemented in 2021 as a matter of urgency. Failure to do so may lead to qualified court interpreters refusing to accept any further court work, to the detriment of all involved.

0 have signed. Let’s get to 2,500!
At 2,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!