20th July 2012 by Jenny Makin
Interpreter fiasco at murder trial
A murder trial had to be halted temporarily when a man translating vital evidence revealed he was only there because his wife – the real interpreter – was too busy.
The judge suspended the case when it became clear that Mubarak Lone was failing to translate key phrases fully and even got the oath wrong for a Sikh witness who was giving evidence.
It was only thanks to a junior defence barrister, who happened to speak Punjabi, that the problem was spotted.
Following an investigation it was discovered Mr Lone was not qualified or registered.
The fiasco can only be reported today following the conclusion of the trial of mum-of-two Rajvinder Kaur, who was yesterday sentenced to life with a minimum term of 11 years in prison, for battering her mother-in-law to death with a rolling pin.
The debacle – which delayed the case by a day, costing tens of thousands of pounds – is the latest in a long line of problems at courts across the country since the Government awarded the interpreter contract to Applied Language Solutions (ALS) in a bid to save £18m.
There have already been thousands of complaints about interpreters provided by the firm, who either turn up late, fail to appear or are not up to the job.
Now a high profile Government committee is launching an inquiry into the awarding of the contract which has brought chaos to courtrooms throughout England.
The latest problem arose at Winchester Crown Court last Friday, shortly after Mr Lone, who turned up 45 minutes late causing the trial to be delayed, was sworn in.
When he attempted to translate the oath to a Sikh witness he got it wrong.
Then, while translating for Kaur’s husband Iqbal Singh as he took the stand to give evidence concerning his mother’s murder, Mr Lone went on to omit key words and phrases.
After repeated failed attempts by defence barrister Jonathan Fuller QC to have his questions asked correctly, the judge, Mr Justice Barnett, stopped the trial.
In the absence of the jury, Mr Lone admitted his wife had been contracted by ALS to act as a translator, but she already had work commitments so he went in her place.
He went on to say he had taken the interpreter test set by ALS but had not received his results and was not accredited.
Describing the situation, Mr Justice Barnett told the court: “This is extremely unfortunate, to use a classic understatement.”
However that wasn’t the end of the matter.
When the trial recommenced on Monday morning a similar situation unfolded when a new female interpreter from ALS arrived – but once again she was not able to correctly translate words and phrases.
The case was only able to continue with the assistance of Kaur’s junior counsel, Sukhdev Garcha.
Mr Garcha told the Daily Echo: “I couldn’t believe the first interpreter was so woefully inadequate and then it happened again with the second who was completely out of her depth. She didn’t understand a lot of words and phrases and her vocabulary was completely lacking.
“If I hadn’t spoken up then people in the court would have thought everything was being interpreted correctly.
“It would have been to the detriment of our client – we could have had a miscarriage of justice. That’s the price you pay.”
Defence barrister Jonathan Fuller QC added: “It’s at the very heart of the justice system because the words are the evidence. If you find, as a defence counsel, that you are calling evidence on words that are unreliable then that is the start of a miscarriage of justice.”
Mr Justice Barnett declined to comment further.