19 April 2012 by Catherine Baksi
Interpreter 'bite' mistake causes trial collapse
A four-day burglary trial at a London Crown court collapsed last week after an interpreter made a mistake translating the defendant’s evidence. The trial at Snaresbrook (pictured) was halted on Friday afternoon after the Romanian language interpreter admitted mistakenly telling the court that the defendant had allegedly been ‘bitten’ rather than ‘beaten’ by the victim of the alleged offence.
Defence solicitor Dhaneshwar Sharma, sole practitioner at Woolwich firm Sharma Law, told the Gazette that the interpreter’s mistake came to light during the prosecution’s cross-examination of the defendant, when the Crown asked for medical evidence of the bite mark.
Sharma said: ‘The interpreter made the mistake on Tuesday, but kept quiet about it until Friday. This is particularly regrettable because the victim and a 12-year-old prosecution witness who have already given evidence will have to do so again.’
The incident is the latest mishap to involve an interpreter supplied under controversial new arrangements which began in February. A spokeswoman for contractor Applied Language Solutions said she could not comment on individual cases, but any complaints received would be ‘investigated thoroughly’.
She added: ‘All our interpreters are qualified to at least the minimum standards required to provide services to the criminal justice system and many are qualified well beyond this.’ The Ministry of Justice said that the contract, worth £125m over five years, is expected to cut the cost of interpretation services by a third.
The Professional Interpreters Alliance continues to boycott the firm because of reduced fees under the new contract, which it claims have led to a decline in the quality of interpreters being used.
A MoJ spokeswoman said there had been an ‘unacceptable number’ of problems in the first weeks of the contract, but a ‘marked improvement’ had been seen after the contractor put in place measures to resolve the issues. She said: ‘We are monitoring the system daily. We remain committed to ensuring the rights and needs of those who require interpreters are safeguarded, as well as ensuring value for taxpayers.’