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Acute shortage of court interpreters a serious concern, lawyer says

PETALING JAYA: Can a court dispense justice effectively if the accused or witnesses do not understand the questions put to them? This is what the country is facing due to a shortage of court interpreters, especially in Tamil and Chinese languages.

Court interpreters are the invisible heroes who, during court proceedings, translate questions into the language of witnesses.

But although figures are not available, lawyers confirm that over the years the number of court interpreters has declined due to a lack of career prospects and poor salaries, before the minimum wage of 1 RM500 does not come into effect on May 1st.

Lawyer Kokila Vaani Vadiveloo said, “There is now a severe shortage of Chinese and Tamil interpreters, which is a serious concern.

“The Chinese language can be Mandarin or any of the Chinese dialects such as Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew or Kheng Chew. Languages ​​of Indian origin can be Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Punjabi, which are still spoken by members of these ethnic communities.

“This shortage is caused by performers choosing different career paths with better pay packages as their starting salary was RM658.72,” she said.

Kokila added that language barriers could interfere with the court’s ability to accurately assess facts based on testimony and administer justice fairly.

“Therefore, interpreter services in Malaysia are indispensable for equal access to justice and must be maintained and continued as long as our country retains its current cultural and linguistic complexity,” she said. the sun.

Kokila said there is ample evidence to support the fact that people who have appeared in court without professional translation services have been unable to protect or enforce their legal rights, adding that it has led to disastrous consequences for their life, liberty, family and property interests.

“In my recent experience, the Shah Alam and Kuala Lumpur courts no longer provide Chinese interpreters, but civil parties are free to bring their Chinese interpreters if needed.

“However, the courts still provide Tamil interpreters, but litigants should write to the officer in charge at least a week before a trial to request their services. Providing interpreters is essential to ensure justice is served for all parties,” she said.

Kokila said great care must be taken to ensure defendants understand the charges they face, their full implications (the charges) and how a defense can be raised.

She suggested that the government recruit and request interpreters from selected companies that offer professional translation services or work directly with freelancers offering them attractive remuneration, including internet services, good quality laptops and telephones. laptops for business purposes.

“It is common nowadays for courts to opt for online hearings due to Covid-19 and the unstable income of litigants. This is one of the most worrying concerns, outside of working through virtual interpretive platforms,” she said.

For criminal cases, she said there is a Legal Practice Certificate Unit, which is responsible for managing and providing foreign interpreter services across Malaysia. This is done through an online application called e-Jurubahasa.

“It covers criminal cases involving defendants or witnesses who need translators in foreign languages, sign language, Sabah and Sarawak dialects as well as Orang Asli languages. As such, the same could be adopted for civil matters in the country,” she said.

Former President of the Bar, Salim Bashir, said the Federal Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure enshrine the rights of those involved in court appearances.

“Court interpreting in Malaysia has long been plagued by problems caused by the shortage of interpreters. There is so far substantial evidence of dissatisfaction from various quarters, including lawyers, with this shortage.

“The government should seek to increase professionalism in the careers of performers. Well-trained interpreters who are not left to learn haphazardly on the job will be an incentive for those who wish to join the interpreting service.

“Also consider increasing pay and promotions for performers, as this will help increase interest in the field,” he said.