After the frivolities of sex last week it is back to more serious topics. Yesterday I met with the Juries Commissioner in Melbourne to discuss the issue of juries and access for deaf people. It was an interesting conversation and we touched upon many topics. In Australia, as suggested by Paul in response to the earlier article Judge and Jury, the sticking point is the issue of the 13th person in the jury.
It is not only interpreters that are a 13th person. A person who is a carer for someone who is a quadriplegic is also considered to be a 13th person. Legally any person in a jury room, participating 0r otherwise, is seen to have influence on the jury. A decision of a jury, under the law, must involve only 12 people. There must not be any influence from outside people. The Juries Commission are working on the issue and trying to find a way around it. As it stands at present the Judges of the courts are standing firm.
It may seem unfair, minor even silly but it got me thinking about the impartiality of an interpreter in any situation. By chance yesterday I bumped into an interpreter and we had a brief discussion of my meeting with the Juries Commissioner . The interpreter, a very experienced NAATI level III interpreter, admitted that in any situation there was potential to misinterpret not only what is being said but also the mood of the speaker. She mentioned that it is possible to interpret a speakers emotion as angry when, in fact, they are only being firm and assertive. In a court situation this could influence the feelings and deliberations of the deaf juror or in the case where the deaf person is on trial, the jury as a whole.
I had a bit of a google on interpreters and juries. I came across a transcript of an interview by Damain Carrick on the Law Report, ABC Radio. The interview touched on being a person in a foreign country. Perhaps an English speaking person has been caught with drugs or alcohol in an Arabic country. They will be tried in the court of the country they are in. Interpreting the language of the country is fraught with danger. In the interview it was explained that Arabic does not have a word for toes. A rough translation of toes into Arabic would be fingers of my feet. A bizarre example, I am aware, but it made me think of similar situations of translating English to Auslan and visa-versa.
What follows is an example of a translation gone wrong that was also provided in the same ABC interview “‘I only saw the little blade that, I mean like, like, it was shiny, that’s all and that’. That’s a translation of the original, and the interpreter says ‘I just saw the shiny blade of the knife’ Think about this. What was said originally was something along the lines of, – “I saw something shiny, and very small that MIGHT have been a knife.” Yet the interpreter has said that the blade of knife was CLEARLY seen. This is very different from what the speaker actually meant and would give the impression that a knife was definitely seen when in fact it was not. To make things more complicated I have given my own interpretation of the original. I would hazard a guess that ten people would provide 10 different interpretations.
BUT whatever interpretation is provided it can clearly influence the individuals thought process. In the situation above the interpreter was an indigenous language interpreter. The indigenous language interpreter has provided an inaccurate interpretation. Imagine that there is a deaf juror and they receive this inaccurate interpretation in sign language. When the time comes to decide guilty or not guilty whose thoughts are being provided by the deaf juror. Are their thoughts their own or have they been influenced by a poor interpretation from the interpreter. Clearly 13 people are at work and not 12.
Perhaps that is just the way the cookie crumbles BUT when a decision has to be made as to whether a person is guilty that could lead to life in prison who has the greater right. The deaf person that wants to take part in the jury or the person on trial? Clearly the sensibilities of the deaf juror that may be offended by their exclusion are insignificant in comparison to the person facing life in prison.
The other side of the coin is the deaf person who is on trial. What happens if the interpreter gets what they are saying wrong? What if they portray the wrong emotion or provide an inaccurate English translation. Do we abort the trial? Or do we continue.? We can argue that if deaf people must run the gauntlet of being misinterpreted when on trial then equally they should be able to stand on a jury if they so decide.
It is not an easy dilemma to deal with. It is very complicated with a million shades of grey. The interpreter may also not be familiar with legal strategies, styles of questioning, types of responses required and so on. It is really a legal and ethical quagmire. To the credit of the Juries Commissioner in Melbourne he is trying to find a way forward. For us the deaf and the disabled we need to step down from our high horse a little and consider all the ramifications involved.