Courts Struggle to Find Interpreters in Unusual Languages

Posted on: April 28th, 2016 by Suzanne Deliscar Add A Comment

People speaking rare or unusual languages are often denied timely access to justice due to a shortage of court interpreters with knowledge of their specialized vernaculars, says Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar.

“How can someone properly defend themselves or put forward their position if they can’t communicate?” asks Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation.

Though most court systems have qualified interpreters, they often struggle to find specialists in unusual languages or patois, Deliscar tells

The issue arose in New York City last year, where a woman from Nepal was kept in a holding cell overnight and was for several months denied custody of her 10-year-old special needs son in an ordeal made worse by delays in finding her an interpreter.

The 52-year-old woman speaks fluent Tibetan and Nepali, but doesn’t understand enough English to follow court proceedings, according to an article in the ABA Journal, published by the American Bar Association.

The March 2016 article says New York City employs 357 interpreters collectively speaking 14 languages, but none are qualified in Tibetan.

In Canada, similar issues often arise in refugee and immigration appeals, where claimants have said the interpreters they were provided did not properly speak their specific dialect, Deliscar says. But this claim can sometimes be abused, she adds.

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