Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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Exploring languages and cultures

5.4.1 Who is entitled to a court interpreter?

Under the legal system of England and Wales, everyone should have equal access to justice. (This is, of course, also true of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but since they have distinct legal systems, the following examples refer only to England and Wales.) Access to an interpreting service is therefore necessary to ensure fairness and equality where a defendant, litigant or witness cannot speak or understand English or is subject to another linguistic challenge such as deafness or hearing impairment. But who should be responsible for providing this service and who should pay for it?

Activity 40

Consider the following scenarios and select the type of support that seems most appropriate in your view. Then check whether your answer matches the person’s entitlement under the current laws of England and Wales.

How consistent and fair do you think such laws are?

1 A D/deaf person wishes a friend or relative who is not a qualified interpreter to interpret for them in court.

a. 

Only a professional interpreter should be used.


b. 

Non-registered interpreters should be approved by the judge.


c. 

A D/deaf person should be free to choose any interpreter they like


The correct answer is b.

Discussion

If a person who is D/deaf or has a hearing impairment wishes an unqualified friend or relative to interpret for them, they must first ask permission from the judge. If the judge is not satisfied that the person has the necessary competence, then the court will arrange and pay for an interpreter.

2 A defendant who cannot understand or speak English very well has been charged with a serious offence. They demand that the court provide and pay for an interpreter.

a. 

The defendant should find a friend or relative who can act as an interpreter.


b. 

The court should provide an interpreter, but the defendant should pay for the service if they can afford it.


c. 

The court should provide an interpreter free of charge, regardless of the defendant’s financial situation.


The correct answer is c.

Discussion

The court will ensure that anyone attending a committal case (i.e. where the defendant has been charged with a serious offence) has the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak English.

3 A defendant who cannot understand or speak English very well has been charged with a minor offence. They demand that the court provide and pay for an interpreter.

a. 

The defendant should find a friend or relative who can act as an interpreter.


b. 

The court should provide an interpreter, but the defendant should pay for the service if they can afford it.


c. 

The court should provide an interpreter free of charge, regardless of the defendant’s financial situation.


The correct answer is b.

Discussion

The court will only provide an interpreter for non-committal (i.e. less serious cases) if the defendant cannot afford to privately pay for an interpreter and has no family member or friend who can interpret for them.

4 A bilingual speaker of Welsh and English wishes to speak Welsh in court. They demand that the court provide an interpreter for non-Welsh speakers.

a. 

Bilingual Welsh speakers should either speak in English or pay an interpreter themselves.


b. 

The court should provide an interpreter free of charge so long as the trial is held in Wales.


c. 

The court should provide an interpreter free of charge anywhere in the UK.


The correct answer is b.

Discussion

Any party has the right to speak Welsh in legal proceedings in Wales, so the court will arrange and pay for an interpreter for non-Welsh speakers if the case is being heard in Wales. This does not apply to other areas of the UK.

(Adapted from Gov.uk, 2014)

Discussion

The answers here detail the situation under the legal system of England and Wales in 2014. Whether you agree that this is fair and appropriate will obviously depend on your personal point of view. You may feel that in scenario 1 the judge might not be qualified to make this decision about linguistic competence, and that in scenario 3 the principle of equality before the law is compromised because access to a qualified interpreter depends on the defendant’s family situation.

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