A national survey, jointly funded by the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration and the University of Western Sydney's Interpreting and Translation Research Group, revealed that most judicial officers are unhappy with the poor quality of interpreters - some of whom are not even required to be qualified.
However, the research also revealed that judicial officers rarely give preference to the best-qualified interpreters when hiring them and, in cases involving a language for which few qualified interpreters are available, some judicial officers make do with family, friends or even another defendant in the court.
The study was carried out by Professor Sandra Hale, now of the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of NSW, who conducted the research when leading the University of Western Sydney's Interpreting and Translation Research Group.
Hale made 16 recommendations following the research, including that courts and tribunals always give preference to the best-qualified interpreters; the introduction of formal legal interpreting training for all court interpreters; the establishment of a national register of qualified legal interpreters; the training of lawyers, judicial officers and tribunal members on how to work with interpreters; and differential pay rates for interpreters according to qualifications.
Other issues that arose in the research were that many interpreters are unhappy about poor pay and uncomfortable working conditions, with pay rates as low as $110 for a day's work at a tribunal, or $200 for a full day in court.
Interpreters also complained of widespread misunderstanding of their role, with some saying they felt "mistrusted" by court personnel and were made to feel uncomfortable or incompetent if they asked for clarification of any kind.
Hale surveyed 148 judicial officers (29 judges, 35 magistrates, 58 tribunal members and 26 registrars) and 138 interpreters.