Lack of Aboriginal interpreters 'affecting justice' in SA courts

Posted March 01, 2017 08:00:18

Some Aboriginal people are being kept in custody for longer than required because of a lack of interpreters in South Australia, lawyers representing Indigenous people claim.

Key points:

  • Aboriginal people account for more than a quarter of prisoners
  • Lawyers say a lack of interpreters delay some people leaving prison
  • An interpreter says more funding was needed to increase the number of Indigenous interpreters

Dudley Davey, from a community in South Australia's APY Lands, recently pleaded guilty to murdering outback nurse Gayle Woodford.

He appeared by videolink without an interpreter because the court and lawyers were unable to find one willing to work with him.

Cheryl Axelby from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement said while she did not know the circumstances of the case, a lack of interpreters was delaying some from possibly leaving prison.

"We know that cases are sometimes remanded so an interpreter can be sourced which is not a fair and equitable sense of justice," she said.

"For Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara [people], they're being held in custody because the system itself is failing. We are really concerned that the system is at breaking point."

Ms Axelby said there had been a significant rise of specifically Anangu Pitjantjatjara men and women entering the prison system in recent years.

"We're also seeing an increase of children being removed and parents not being supported with interpreters through the investigation and assessment phase," she claimed.

Despite representing 3 per cent of the population, Aboriginal people account for more than a quarter of the prison population.

Ms Axelby said increasing the number of interpreters and establishing a better system to make them easily accessible should be a priority.

"We have an interpreter working with us as an Aboriginal field officer and that person is constantly called upon by the courts to fill gaps because they can't get interpreters," she said.

"We are calling for interpreters, calling for increased home detention and diversions from custody when people are remanded."

Lack of interpreters affecting justice: Law society

Tony Rossi from South Australia's Law Society said a lack of Aboriginal interpreters needed to be addressed.

"You cannot have justice without the person understanding what is going on," he said.

"What can sometimes happen is that an interpreter is not available at the time, that's largely as a result of a shortage.

"If an interpreter is not available, that means that the matter's delayed, if someone is in custody there is the possibility the person remains in custody longer than is required."

Mr Rossi believes many areas of the court system are under resourced.

"Fundamentally it needs more resources, it needs more effort put in to ensuring that there are a sufficient number of Aboriginal translators," he said.

"It's important that those who do interpret in the court system have a proficiency in the language to be able to accurately translate, otherwise you can have an injustice."

Funding for Indigenous interpreters 'vital'

For many people living in Central Australia, English is their second, third or sometimes fourth language, even for children.

Aboriginal interpreter Rose Lester said that fact, along with the shockingly high incarceration rate, was why more funding for interpreters was vital.

"It's also one industry where Aboriginal people can get employment and build a career and perhaps even elaborate into other domains," she said.

"So it's a good strategy for education and employment."

The South Australian Government has recently developed a policy framework for Aboriginal interpretive organisations to work from.

On its website it said the framework demonstrated its commitment to closing the gap, through providing a coordinated approach to using interpreting services.

Topics:indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, law-crime-and-justice, courts-and-trials, port-augusta-5700, ernabella-0872, fregon-872, sa

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