Thursday, 26 September 2013

Scotland: Man's conviction quashed after interpreter not provided for witness 
26 September 2013

Man's conviction quashed after interpreter not provided for witness
A van driver who tried to assault a police officer and resisted arrest has had his convictions quashed - because a court would not provide an interpreter for his girlfriend.
Czech Martin Kroupa, 37, was arrested during a struggle with police who wanted to give him a breath test outside his home in Johnstone, Renfrewshire.
They claimed he had tried to punch one constable on the head, resisted four officers in the execution of their duty had behaved in a threatening manner while they were investigating reports of a driver under the influence of drink.
Mr Kroupa, of Maple Drive, denied the charges against him and claimed police grabbed him and began "interrogating" him about an alleged theft of metal and bogus insurance claims.
He said his partner, Jarmila Kapustova, also from the Czech Republic, was abused by police and when he protested one of the constables punched him, knocking his spectacles to the ground.
He claimed was brought down by the police and repeatedly assaulted as he lay there on July 14 2011.
As the case proceeded through Paisley Sheriff Court, Mr Kroupa was left without a solicitor because his application for legal aid was refused.
He was left to try to defend himself at the trial which followed. Mr Kroupa relied on Ms Kapustova to back his version of events, but her English was poor.
At the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh, Lord Eassie - sitting with Lady Paton and Lord Wheatley - heard that Mr Kroupa was provided with an interpreter, because he was the accused.
But he was told if he wanted an interpreter to help his witness - Ms Kapustova - he would have to pay the costs himself.
Mr Kroupa complained that was something he could not afford. Sheriff David Pender was told by his clerk that the court-appointed interpreter would not help the defence.
The sheriff told appeal judges that Mr Kroupa gave his evidence in English, but an interpreter helped when he was cross-examined by the prosecutor.
The sheriff agreed that Ms Kapustova's command of English was "poor" and he asked for questions to be put to her in a simple straightforward way.
But, the appeal judges heard, Sheriff Pender thought Ms Kapustova understood all the questions put to her.
None of her answers was "nonsensical". Although she had difficulty, she was able to respond to questions, given time to think.
But, Lord Eassie noted, the questioning appeared to have been restricted with each side asking no more than a dozen or so questions.
Defence advocate Ann Ogg argued that the absence of an interpreter for Ms Kapustova made the trial unfair and resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
Although, normally, it was up to the defence to provide an interpreter when needed, courts had the ultimate responsibility for ensuring fairness.
Advocate depute Andrew Brown QC, for the Crown, said that although Miss Kapustova's English was "very limited" she had been able to support her partner's story. Lord Eassie, in his ruling, backed Ms Ogg.
He said: "If it appears necessary or desirable that the giving of evidence by a witness with limited command of spoken English be done with the assistance of an interpreter, the judge should take such steps as he can to enable that to be achieved.”
Sheriff Pender could have ordered the interpreter to help Miss Kapustova, Lord Eassie suggested.
Mr Kroupa's partner was a key witness, he continued.
He added "The importance of Ms Kapustova's giving evidence uninhibited by her obviously defective command of English was, in out view, clear."
Mr Kroupa's convictions, which had resulted in fines totalling £500, were quashed.

High Court judge speaks out on witness statements from people who do not speak English

High Court judge speaks out on witness statements from people who do not speak English
Courts and legal practitioners must take a rigorous approach to the preparation and interpretation of statements from witnesses who do not speak English, High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson has declared.
Ruling in a complex fact finding hearing involving a family of Pakistani origin living in England, the judge stressed the need for “clarity about the process by which a statement [from a non-English speaking witness] has been created.”
The case, a residence dispute following the breakdown of the couple’s marriage, involved allegations that the husband had stranded his wife in Pakistan, separating her from their two children for more than five months. The hearing involved no less than seven witness statements delivered via interpreters.
The judge noted that one witness had not read through the English translation of witness statement before signing it and had only noticed inaccuracies in this when the contents were discussed with her. Another Pakistani had been unable to clearly explain how his statement, in English, had been drawn up.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said:
“Issues of this sort can arise whether or not a party is legally represented.  In international cases, the contribution of experienced solicitors of the kind found in this case is invaluable, and I do not intend to be unduly critical of those involved.  What occurred is nonetheless procedurally irregular and potentially unfair to the parties and to the witness.”

Monday, 16 September 2013

Interpreter not in court 
16 September 2013

Interpreter not in court
A Polish woman could not have her case dealt with because no interpreter was available at court.
Magdalena Falarksa, aged 32, of Williams Street in Pontarddulais, has been charged with theft of 5433KwH of gas belonging to British Gas between September 30 and May 15.
City magistrates were told she required an interpreter, who was not available, and the case was adjourned for seven days.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Court failings scupper 500 cases a week 
5 September 2013

Court failings scupper 500 cases a week
A total of 106,859 were dropped or delayed last year, costing £17m figures show
More than 500 court cases are being thrown out or delayed each week due to failings by prosecutors or in the court system, it has been claimed.
Government figures have shown that in total 106,859 cases before crown and magistrates’ courts were dropped or delayed in 2012, costing an estimated £17.4m.
Tony Arbour, Conservative London Assembly Member, said that 30,155 cases were delayed or thrown out because of court or prosecution failings, around 580 per week.
He said in a new report: “In general, the court system is chaotic and even the basics are not in place which often means cases cannot go ahead.
“Trials fall apart because witnesses are not told when to turn up, the Crown Prosecution Service fails to receive police evidence, or barristers fail to call witnesses who are waiting in court into the witness box.
“Witnesses and victims can often be vulnerable, chaotic and disorganised. Often, they don’t want to attend court and just want to get on with their lives. Yet the court system does more to discourage these people from coming forward rather than encouraging them.”
The delayed cases in 2012 included 3,091 that were put back because the prosecution was not ready and 5,159 that were put back because of absent prosecution witnesses, the report said. There were also 642 that were delayed because no interpreter was available, and another 224 were hit by failures in courtroom equipment.
Dropped cases included 10,025 that were stopped because of insufficient prosecution evidence, and 9,867 where a prosecution witness was absent or withdrawn.
Referring to the estimated financial cost, Mr Arbour added: “These enormous sums mask the even greater emotional cost to victims and witnesses, who may become so disillusioned with the courts that they will not use the justice system again, and, worse still not even bother to report crime.
“Only by getting the basics right will the CPS reduce the number of dropped and delayed cases and bring villains to justice effectively. Witnesses and victims need to know the exact time, day and place to attend, prosecution barristers should be able to see case papers in advance, not at 9am for a 10am start, and the CPS, police and prosecution barristers should directly communicate before the trial to make sure it is ready.”
In total 19,703 crown court cases out of 38,432 were dropped or delayed in 2012, and 87,156 out of a total of 156,671 in magistrates’ courts.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Debate: Criminal Legal Aid Reforms

Criminal Legal Aid Reforms 
4 September 2013

Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)
"We must also look at quality. We saw the problems with the bulk contract awarded to Applied Language Solutions—now Capita—for interpreting services. It did not provide the quality that was needed, and we must avoid anything like the same problems again."

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour)
"The continuing interpreters fiasco is not only a problem in itself but an indication of where we might be in relation to the proposals. Having a system in which the lowest common denominator drives down prices to the lowest possible level means that we just cannot get the people to do the work."