Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.




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Friday, 12 December 2014

SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES



A little publicised report from a current trial at the Inner London Crown Court deserves a mention.  The trial is that of Gibert Deya a self styled “archbishop”, born in Kenya, who is accused of rape, attempted rape, sexual assault and battery.  The witness, a Sierra Leonean,   who claimed she was raped gave evidence for a full hour with repeated promptings from lawyers to speak more clearly,   before a court official also from that country, informed the court that she (the witness) was not speaking English or at least any dialect which could reasonably be assumed to be English.   My point today is how could a judge who must, one can assume, have been in the same difficulties as the lawyers in failing to comprehend the witness, fail to intervene and order the question of her language to be investigated.  My conclusion  is that until the timely intervention of the court clerk it would appear that all and sundry were afraid to be denounced as that all encompassing worst of all epithets; “racist”.  Will the judge`s non intervention be subject to a complaint to the Office for Judicial Complaints ?...........I suppose  you can guess my opinion.  I would add a corollary.  Owing to the situation and making a pragmatic decision albeit overdue  the judge swore in the court clerk as a temporary interpreter.  I recollect very clearly during a trial many years ago when the Arab witness was stumbling over a few phrases and I authorised a native Arabic speaker on the bench to help him over a few sentences.  At the post trial review I was criticised by the legal advisor.  I told her that she was going too far and if she wanted to report my action I would defend myself at any level.  That was the end of the matter.   

3 comments:

  1. Some years ago a colleague who was half Russian conducted a committal hearing in Russian since no interpreter was, or as likely to be, available. No harm was done, nobody complained, and the case moved on.

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  2. I well recall a similar incident in the immigration tribunal when the official interpreter spoke an Albanian dialect from Albania, whereas the appellant was an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo. A key element of the evidence revolved around the Albanian words for "safety catch" on an automatic rifle. The official translator insisted on using the English term "fuse" (as in electrical fuse box) which completely confused everyone as the appellant's oral evidence appeared to make no sense at all - thus potentially undermining his credibility.

    As it happened, I speak fluent Albanian (both dialects) and although I was attending in a professional capacity, I was asked by the Immigration Judge (whom I know from previous hearings) to clarify the matter for the court, which I was happy to do. I pointed out that the official interpreter - supplied by a contacted agency - had also made a fist of various other important parts of the appellant's evidence, so we virtually had to start again. These cases highlight the inherent risks in failing to establish what language a witness (or a defendant) speaks prior to the case being heard and then ensuring that someone with the appropriate interpretation skills is available. Anything less risks undermining the principles of justice, not to mention potential costs in having to re-run trials or launch appeals when it has all gone wrong.

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  3. Actually the language she was speaking was a form of pidgin - I've worked with someone who's "first" language was pidgin, its derived from English and you can sort of understand it (in the same way a spaniard can understand an italian). It does sound a bit like some sort of "slang". I guess you would consider Scots to be much the same. Presumably CPS should have been aware of language issues before the trial!

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