Barrister uses Google Translate after UK court mix-up

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A quick-thinking barrister in the UK used Google Translate to help a defendant after the Mandarin speaker was not provided a translator during her appearance.

Joan Smith had to download Google Translate on her phone to help Xiu Ping Yang, who was being accused of food hygiene breaches at her Chinese restaurant in Eston, North Yorkshire, The Law Society Gazette reported. Smith is a direct-access barrister and she was at the Teesside Magistrates’ Court last week for an unrelated case.

“An interpreter wasn’t present and it became clear the defendant could not speak English. She didn’t understand what the judge or prosecutors were saying to her or what was happening,” she told the Gazette.

“The clerk asked if anyone had any way of communicating with her. No one had phones on them and the council said they didn’t know of anyone who could interpret. So I downloaded the Google Translate app and tried to explain what was happening. It worked eventually but it could have been a long day,” she said.

Redcar and Cleveland Council, the plaintiff, said the court bore the responsibility to engage an interpreter for the woman. However, Ministry of Justice guidance says the prosecutor is responsible for notifying the court of the need for a translator in civil cases.

HM Courts & Tribunals said it always takes steps to ensure an interpreter is available when it is notified of the need.

“It is vital that victims, witnesses and defendants understand what is happening in court to guarantee justice is done,” it said.

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