Pilot scheme aims to slash €3m court translation bill
It cost €3m to provide interpretation in the courts last year -- with translators required in more cases involving Swahili and Lingala, the Bantu language of north west Congo (DR), than for cases heard in Irish.
Now new rules are being brought into force that are designed to cut the huge cost to the taxpayer.
The Irish Courts Service has initiated a pilot scheme in the Border counties of Cavan and Monaghan which will mean that cases involving foreign nationals will be heard all on one day -- rather than divided over different court sittings.
Judge Sean MacBride announced in Cavan last week he was initiating the move in relation to forthcoming court lists to avoid interpreters having to sit all day in courts, waiting for only one or two cases to be heard.
"The cost is enormous to the State," he said.
The move has been welcomed by the legal profession in the area. One Cavan-based solicitor commented: "This is a very important development and it will be advantageous to the legal profession as well as non-Irish nationals who have to attend courts.
"It will prevent a lot of time being wasted by people having to sit in court all day and their cases not even being reached because of the enormity of some court lists."
Irish courts have had to deal with 210 different languages and dialects over the past 13 years.
In 2009, the Courts Service was asked by the courts to provide interpretation on 10,200 occasions at 209 different locations, involving 71 languages.
Of these almost 15 per cent were provided urgently within less than 24 hours notice.
In less than 4 per cent of cases, an interpreter could not be supplied for the date requested, a Courts Service spokesman told the Sunday Independent.
The languages which required most translation serves were: Polish (25 per cent); Lithuanian (18.5 per cent); Romanian (17 per cent); Russian (9 per cent); and Mandarin (8 per cent).
The Courts Service also provides leaflets and website information in foreign languages such as French, Mandarin and Cantonese.
Interpretation costs nationwide reached €3.6m in 2008 but dropped last year to €3m.
Among the other languages which required translation were Farsi, Yoruba, which is spoken in West Africa, Igbo, spoken in Nigeria and parts of Guinea, and Twi, a dialect spoken in Ghana by the Akan.
Swahili translation was required on 19 occasions and Lingala in 17 court hearings. Translation from and into Irish was required in 16 court appearances.
Translation services used by gardai outside the courts have not been without their critics. At the Garda Representative Association annual conference, Tom O'Sullivan, a detective attached to Interpol, claimed interpreters were not vetted and there was no system for checking basic accreditation and language proficiency.
He gave the example of a Chinese interpreter hired to help interview a suspect. It later turned out the interpreter himself was an illegal immigrant.
"Any foreign national with a mobile phone and a notepad who speaks reasonable English can operate as an interpreter in a completely unregulated environment," he said.