Justice chief, Judge at odds over translators shortage

The head of the Justice Ministry, Moliei Simi Vaai, has dismissed a Supreme Court Judge’s urgent plea for more court translators, a shortage of which he said was putting justice at risk. 

Claims of an urgent shortage of translators were first made by the Supreme Court Justice Leiataualesa Darryl Clarke, who said the Ministry of Justice and Court Association (M.J.C.A.) was unable to retain experienced Court Registrars able to translate court matters. 

But the Chief Executive Officer for the M.J.C.A. denied that a shortage was causing problems.  

“The court has competent translators in the current team,” said Mrs. Vaai. 

On Tuesday, Justice Leiataualesa said the shortage of capable Court Registrars was an issue that had been known by the Ministry for some time.

He said that errors in translation in assessor trials could result in the declaration of a mistrial or appeals of the verdicts of assessors.

But the C.E.O. said that trained staff no longer remaining at the Ministry was reflective of the fact that time moves on.

“Like any workplace, trained staff move on for various reasons and some to better opportunities. They go with our blessings and support,” she said.

But Mrs. Vaai said that the Judge’s assessment that a lack of adequate translators caused trials to be deferred and postponed was only the Judge’s say so. 

“The judge’s decision to adjourn [a]case is the [prerogative] of the Judge,” said the C.E.O.  

The Judge’s concerns about translators were first raised on Tiesdau because of a delay of an assessor trial. 

The assessor’s trial was for Francis Sautiaimalae Molia, who was facing charges of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, assault grievous bodily harm and being armed with a dangerous

The trial was in connection to the death of an 18-year-old boy who was stabbed to death in town last year.

“Regrettably, this hearing is unable to proceed today,” Justice Leiataualesa said on Tuesday

“Over recent years and in more recent months and weeks, the M.J.C.A. has not retained its experienced Court Registrars able to translate in assessor trials. 

“The result is that presently, only one Court Registrar has the skills and knowledge satisfactory to me to competently translate for an assessor trial. 

“In weeks such as this where there are two assessor trials being conducted, it is not possible to proceed. Where that Registrar is sick or absent, assessor trials would also be placed at risk. My concern as to the translation of these proceedings is shared by counsel.” 

“This risk should have been identified by the M.J.C.A. and addressed before today. This issue had been raised by the judiciary before today." He said translation of court proceedings for assessor trials requires special skills. 

“These are [particularly] critical for the translation of the court [hearings] and [counsels’] opening addresses, the medical evidence, the closings by counsel and the summing up by the court. 

“These call for very specialised knowledge for the precise, accurate and complete translation of legal and medical terms. 

“These are critical in all aspects of an assessor trial, from the court and counsel addresses to assessors on complex matters of law [such as when] medical evidence [and] precise medical terms are used by the pathologist and medical practitioners.”

“This is not acceptable nor am I prepared to conduct an assessor trial on this basis,” he said.



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