11 August 2017
Blame game begins as Google Translate stands in for court interpreter
A blame game has begun over who should provide translation services after a barrister was forced to step in and download a translation app when a defendant unable to speak English was left without an interpreter at a court hearing.
Mandarin-speaking Xiu Ping Yang had been accused by Redcar & Cleveland Council of food hygiene breaches related to a Chinese restaurant she ran in Eston, North Yorkshire.
She appeared unrepresented at Teesside Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, 8 August.
However, no one was on hand to communicate with her. Her case was adjourned until 25 September.
Direct access barrister Joan Smith, who was already at court working on a separate case, downloaded the Google translate app when she realised that Yang did not understand what was happening.
She told the Gazette: ‘An interpreter wasn’t present and it became clear the defendant could not speak English. She didn’t understand what the judge or prosecutors were saying to her or what was happening.
’The clerk asked if anyone had any way of communicating with her. No-one had phones on them and the council said they didn’t know of anyone who could interpret. So I downloaded the Google translate app and tried to explain what was happening. It worked eventually but it could have been a long day.’
Redcar and Cleveland Council, which brought the case, told the Gazette it was up to the court to provide an interpreter. However, according to Ministry of Justice guidance, when civil cases are brought against a defendant it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to notify the court that translation services are needed.
A spokesperson for HM Courts & Tribunals Service said: ’It is vital that victims, witnesses and defendants understand what is happening in court to guarantee justice is done. HMCTS always takes steps to ensure an interpreter is provided, where it has been brought to their attention that this is a requirement.’