25 May 2022
Use of interpreters a necessary expense in unequal system
[…] To be fair to Judge Walsh, her controlled anger at hearing the circumstances of the assault is entirely understandable. Casual violence, usually committed under the influence of alcohol, is a cultural phenomenon in this society. Innocent victims like fast-food workers should be entitled to go to work unafraid of what their shift might bring. But her comments about interpreters were selective, to say the least. It is also the case that interpreters are not required when people come to this country to prop up the low-paid sector and without whom the economy might shudder to a halt. Interpreters are not required for the legions of foreign nationals who ensure that the health service at every level continues to function. Neither are interpreters required when the same workers hand over their tax euros to the State and generally contribute to the fashioning of the kind of multicultural society that enriches all aspects of life in this country. Requiring an interpreter to be fully cognisant of proceedings which could result in a term of imprisonment is surely not too much to ask and, to be fair, neither is it ever denied. But it would seem that Judge Walsh is of the opinion that “they” don’t really need one, and are hiding behind the delay and drawn-out hearing that flow from employing an interpreter. So how many of those in need of language assistance does she deem to be acting the maggot in this respect? In all likelihood, there are a few who play the system in this respect, just as there are a few who will play the system by any means at their disposal, particularly to delay or frustrate the dreaded day of judgement. There are also others who might, with some difficulty, manage to interpret for themselves what is going on. But is that good enough if they are, for instance, involved in proceedings that might find them guilty of a criminal offence and possibly result in imprisonment? There are also, however, a large cohort who simply do not have any command of the English language, and in a country in which nearly 13% of residents are non-Irish born as of April 2021. The judge quite obviously and correctly wants to guard the public purse, but some costs are necessary.
Last year, according to the Courts Service, the cost of interpreters was €1.5m for attendance in 9,216 cases. That is a drop in the ocean of legal costs that are weighing down the whole system. Just this week, it was announced that plans to tackle ballooning legal costs were once more being delayed. The civil law system, as observed by former chief justice Frank Clarke, is so costly that it is “all but moving beyond the resources of all but a few”.
So, while it is commendable that Judge Walsh is keeping an eye on the public purse, interpreters — and the work they perform to ensure that all are equal before the law — is cheap for the price compared to what is spent elsewhere in a very unequal system.