Court Appointed Interpreters

Section 14 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:

Legal Rights:

Section 14 – Interpreter:

“A party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf, has the “right to the assistance of an interpreter”

Interpreters serve two hundred and fifty (250) communities in Ontario, in one hundred and seventy-nine (179) Court locations in the Province of Ontario.

According to the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, you should possess the following skills to be qualified as a freelance court appointed interpreter:

  • excellent communication skills
  • strong  interpersonal and listening skills
  • excellent memory skills
  • you should possess discretion and professionalism

Freelance interpreters are paid twenty-five ($25.00) dollars per appearance in court  (with a minimum of three (3) hours pay, irrespective of the amount of time required for the interpretation assignment).  In addition to the minimum $75.00 payment, some interpreters receive vehicle mileage, meals and hotel rooms paid for.

What do freelance court appointed interpeters do?

The Ministry of the Attorney General states that these interpreters have a fundamental role in providing access to justice.

A freelance court appointed interpreter has the following job description:

“A freelance court appointed interpreter assists people who are unable to communicate in the language of the proceedings by providing a continuous, precise, impartial, competent and contemporaneous interpretation of what is communicated in the source language into the target language (ie – from Greek into English and from English into Greek).

The court appointed interpreter is appointed by the Court to assist the defendant (the individual who received the ticket) or a witness wo does not understand or speak the language (English or French) in which the court proceedings are conducted.

Too many times, the “interpreter” rather than assisting the defendant/witness, will go out of their way to act as an advocate for the court or the Prosecutor.  When this happens, impartiality is thrown out the door and the interpreter is acting in a manner which can only be charaterized as being deterimental to the interests of the defendant(s).

There are many instances where the Prosecutor is agressively pushing for a plea bargain with the defendant (there are a number of reasons why: the court docket is full, the police officer doesn’t recall what happened, the police officer or other officer under the Provincial Offences Act (Ontario) neglected to provide his or her notes when confronted with a “request for disclosure from the defendant, the officer will not be showing up, etc., etc) and the interpreter will step in and suggest to them that the offer of the Prosector is a “good one” and that the defendand should “take it”.

The interpreter will inform the defendant that he is in the courtroom to assist, through interpretation that he/she is busy in another court room and doesn’t have time to wait around until the court room is in session and must leave soon.

Often the defendant is scared, confused, anxious  and bewildered by the entire Justice system in Ontario. They just want this unpleasant experience to end as quickly as possible and view the interpreter, who speaks their language, as a friendly face and a friend (who would not “mislead” them and would act in good faith). When the interpreter says it is a good deal (the so-called “deal” that the Prosecutor offers the defendant as a “plea bargain”) and that they (the defendant) should take it.  The interpreter will often inform the defendant that it is a good deal and will instruct them to “accept it”, as a result, the defendant often accepts the deal, on the advice of their newly found buddy, the court appointed interpreter.

It is understandable that these interpreters both want and need work and that is order preserve their job security, many will try to ingratiate themselves with the Prosecutor and will try to do this before the court proceedings are taped (this is when the deals are offered and accepted and there is no official record).

In these court proceedings, Justices of the Peace are not allowed to dispense legal advice or legal opinions for the defendants, and therefore they do not.  Some Interpreters (not all), on the other hand, feel obliged to provide legal advice/opinions, even though they are are suppose to be professional and impartial.  Interpreters are not an extension of the court, but often they portray themselves, as just that.  This type of behaviour is highly improperly and should be both discouraged and frowned upon.

By acting as uncommissioned sales staff for the City Prosecutor, it could easily be construed that these interpreters are selling out the defendant, to curry favour with the Prosecutor/Court.  This is not the job or function of an interpreter. They should not act as an advocate of the court or the Prosecutor. The job they are paid for is to simply offer interpretation services, period

Be very weary of court appointed interpreters who act like this.  They are performing a disservice to the defendant and the justice system and are not doing the job that they were hired to do.

It is important to keep in mind, that you are entitled to have an interpreter assist you during any court proceedings, as long as you have made the request prior to the trial (normally this request is made when you are requesting a trial, when you submit you Intention to Appear notice, see: Requesting a Trial .

If you previously requested an interpreter and you show up to court for your trial and an interpreter does not appear to assist you, the Court will ask if there is an interpreter in the building and if there is not, the chances are good that the Justice of the Peace will dismiss the charges, given that your rights to understand and to participate and defend yourself against the charge (s) have been comprimised.

If the court interpreter is a member of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario, then a complaint can be laid with that association, given that this Association has developed a professional code of conduct that it expects all of its members to adhere to.

See Court Services Interpreters for the City of Toronto.

Update: see Press Release dated April 10, 2010 from the Criminal Lawyer’s Association. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association (Ontario) “CLA” calls for an immediate inquiry into Ontario’s inadequate court interpretation services.

Update: April 17, 2010 – Lost In Translation

Update: May 1, 2010 – Lost in Translation – 2

Update: January 22, 2011 – Court Interpretation Services – Ontario

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