Court translator shortage urgent: Judge

Supreme Court Justice Leiataualesa Darryl Clarke has expressed frustration at an "urgent" shortage of Court Registrators able to translate assessor trials. 

“These limitations must be urgently addressed by the Registrar of the Supreme Court," the Judge said of the shortage of translators, which he claimed had been known by the Ministry for some time.

The concerns were raised by the Judge after an assessors trial 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 [Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration] 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.” 

Justice Leiataualesa said the 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.”

Justice Leiataualesa said that errors in translation could result in the declaration of a mistrial or appeals of the verdicts of assessors. 

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

“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."

In court Justice Leiataualesa expressed his sincere regret for the inconvenience caused by the absence of translators. 

“I am ready to proceed with the hearing today but in those circumstances that I have outlined, this hearing cannot proceed,” he said. 

The case has been adjourned in two weeks’ time to set a new hearing date. 

This is the second time this matter has been vacated a trial date. 

Last month the court “reluctantly” agreed to vacate a trial date to allow the defence counsel Leota Tima Leavai to attend a family matter in Savai’i.

Presiding over a murder trial, Justice Leiataualesa Darryl Clarke noted defence lawyer, Leota Tima Leavai, had sought an adjournment but the assessors trial was scheduled for five days starting on Wednesday this week.

“Ms. Leavai has sought for the hearing to proceed but for Friday and Monday to be set aside to allow counsel to attend the [a family event]; the prosecution opposes such a position but does not object to the hearing date being vacated and remains on the call over,” said Justice Leiataualesa.


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