Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census of Population and Housing, 2016 regarding the 'Proficiency of Spoken English' of Australians who arrived between 1991-2016, found:
  • Nearly 330,000 Australians marked 'NOT WELL'
  • Nearly 85,000 Australians marked 'NOT AT ALL'
The numbers of those arriving between 1900-1990:
  • Over 172,000 marked 'NOT WELL'
  • Nearly 20,000 marked 'NOT AT ALL'
The risks are felt across health, legal, government and migrant services as translators lack the level of training, expertise and knowledge to adequately provide equity for the 600,000 Australians with language barriers. In a court system that was established in a far less culturally diverse society, it is now common that people appearing before the courts will require the assistance of an interpreter during legal proceedings. Translators play a vital role to ensure the justice is administered effectively and fairly to individuals who are less proficient in the English language.

To ensure justice is served fairly Council on Cultural Diversity (JCCD) released the Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals “to establish recommended and optimal practices for Australia’s courts.” The Recommended Standards for Interpreters are:

Standard 18 — Interpreters as officers of the court

18.1 Interpreters are officers of the court in the sense that they owe to the court paramount duties of accuracy and impartiality in the office of interpreter which override any duty that person may have to any party to the proceedings, even if that person is engaged directly by that party.

Standard 19 — Court Interpreters’ Code of Conduct

19.1 Interpreters must ensure that they are familiar with, and comply with, the Court Interpreters’ Code of Conduct.

Standard 20 — Duties of interpreters

20.1 Interpreters must diligently and impartially interpret communications in connection with a court proceeding as accurately and completely as possible.
20.2 Interpreters must comply with any direction of the court.
  • 20.3 Where the interpreter becomes aware that she or he may have a conflict of interest, the interpreter must alert the court to the possible conflict of interest immediately, and if necessary withdraw from the assignment or proceed as directed by the court.
  • 20.4 Requests by the interpreter for repetition, clarification and explanation should be addressed to the judicial officer rather than to the questioning counsel, witness or party. Recommended Standards for Interpreters
  • 20.5 There may be occasions when the interpreter needs to correct a mistake. All corrections should be addressed to the judicial officer rather than to the questioning counsel, witness or party.
  • 20.6 If the interpreter recognises a potential cross–cultural misunderstanding, or comprehension or cognitive difficulties on the part of the person for whom the interpreter is interpreting, the interpreter should seek leave from the judicial officer to raise the issue.
  • 20.7 Interpreters must keep confidential all information acquired, in any form whatsoever, in the course of their engagement or appointment in the office of interpreter (including any communication subject to client legal privilege) unless:
    • a) that information is or comes into the public domain; or
    • b) the beneficiary of the client legal privilege has waived that privilege
The standards also recommend that interpreters be treated as professional independent officers of the court; and therefore, better standards, conditions and remuneration for interpreters in courts

MORE INFORMATION

Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals
The growing need for translators and interpreters
A Case For Change