Professional interpretation matters. That’s especially true in the medical and legal field. A 2012 court case in Canada provides a great example of what not to do.
The court interpreter seems to speak perfect Hindi. The unsuspecting might think that would be enough to excel as a court interpreter. But thestar.com reported this particular Hindi interpreter couldn’t keep up fast enough to accurately perform comprehensive simultaneous interpretation.
Interpretation Called Poor And Substandard
Canadian Supreme Court Justice Casey Hill declared a mistrial in the sexual assault case. The judge called the quality of the Hindi interpretation poor and substandard. An expert from the United States, Umesh Passi (member, New York State Bar Association), reviewed audiotapes from the cross-examination. Umesh found the court interpreter “did not interpret verbatim, summarized most of the proceedings and was not able to interpret everything that was said on the record.”
Pat Band, a director with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Toronto, called the situation with interpreters in Toronto a crisis. Pat said there aren’t enough accredited interpreters and the standards (of interpreting) are almost impossible to understand. In 2012 in the Toronto area, there were only 171 accredited interpreters. Of those 171, only two are accredited Portuguese language interpreters. There were none in Korean, Filipino, Sudanese Arabic or Swedish. The courts were continually recruiting for languages such as Punjabi, Korean, Tamil, Mandarin and Vietnamese.
The 171 interpreters served a population of 1.5 million residents who regularly spoke neither English nor French at home. Of that number, at least 200,000 couldn’t hold a conversation in either French or English.
Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, said potential interpreters were being recruited among international students at universities, law schools and professional organizations. The issue seemed to affect at least Greater Toronto and Ontario.
Another Complaint About The Shortage Of Interpreters
In May 2013 another Ontario judge blasted the province for failing to remedy a long-standing shortage of qualified interpreters in the courts. Frustrated over an impaired driving case he felt compelled to toss out, Ontario Court Justice Peter Tetley said the number of cases being adversely affected is at an intolerable level.
“In a multicultural society like Canada, it is completely unacceptable that there is such a shortage of proper interpreters in major languages, such us Punjabi and Mandarin,” said Attorney Peter Lindsay. The attorney said the right to a fair trial guarantees that defendants be capable of comprehending the case against them. He called the interpreter situation an embarrassment.
Another Ontario Court judge, Justice Casey Hill, told a conference last year that anxious judges are even poaching interpreters from one another to avoid throwing out criminal charges. He said that training was still virtually non-existent and competency tests were unreliable. To worsen the situation, interpreters have become alienated by controversial attempts to test their proficiency.
In The Globe and Mail Brendan said that while the courts were consistently provided with qualified interpreters, it also “recognizes the need to continue to make improvements as the demand for court interpretation evolves and grows.”
Improvements seem to be coming. In May 2013, Brendan said the ministry had a registry of 372 accredited and 356 conditionally accredited court interpreters, representing 146 languages.