Lawyer forced to rely on Google translate in court

Lawyer forced to rely on Google translate in court

In a recent case in Oxford Crown Court, a Solicitor Advocate was forced to rely on Google Translate as no interpreter was available.

The accused was an 18-year-old Vietnamese national, Pham Hoang. He had been charged with producing class B drugs, having been apprehended by police during a raid on a cannabis farm earlier in the year.

His lawyer, Gareth Hames, told the Judge:

“Mr Hoang is a Vietnamese national who speaks no English.

“I have tried French [Vietnam was part of French Indochina until independence in the 1950s] and that did not work.

“I resorted to using Google Translate to explain very basically to him we are in a difficult position without an interpreter.”

According to reports, no interpreter was booked when the case was sent from the magistrates’ court to the crown court last month.

Mr Hoang was unable to enter a plea as a result of this communication difficulty. However, a trial date has been set for January next year. He will return to court for an adjourned plea hearing later this year - hopefully with a suitable interpreter available.

Such a case demonstrates the administrative difficulty created by a failure to instruct interpreters timeously and properly. As a result, time and effort are spent for no outcome, and justice is delayed. 

The right to an interpreter is a fundamental part of an accused's right to a fair trial. It is a key principle of English common law that the Defendant must be able to understand the charges made against them, and be able to defend themselves properly. This right is also enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which reads:  “Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the [right] to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he or she cannot understand or speak the language used in court.”  The right is not subject to qualification.

It is the responsibility of the police of the Court to arrange for an interpreter in court proceedings - not the solicitor unless a separate interpreter is required for consultations. It is then the court's responsibility to arrange for a suitable and qualified interpreter to be made available.

It is, however, the responsibility of the defending solicitor to ensure that the defendant's needs are met with regard to translation.

In this case, it seems like an oversight has created the issue, resulting in - in this case - little more than some wasted time, avoidable expense, and a red face for someone. However, as with all such cases, there exists the possibility for more serious consequences, which is why translation and interpretation should always be taken seriously.

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