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.