Redressing the inbalance: Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system
Issue: Vol 6 No. 1 (1999)
Subject Areas: Linguistics
Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system in the Northern Territory of Australia are disadvantaged because of the lack of court-trained interpreters, and because of cultural differences which affect their ability to understand and be understood. Aboriginal people speak a variety of languages as well as a form of English which differs from standard English. The article examines efforts made to establish an Aboriginal Languages Interpreter Service, and to establish methods which can be employed by the courts to reduce the effect of these difficulties in the investigative and trial processes. It is recommended that translations in the main Aboriginal languages of the caution and other relevant information be tape-recorded and played by the police to Aboriginal suspects before commencing a formal record of interview, and that judges should insist on the presence of trained interpreters during the recording of interview, in addition to a prisoner's friend, unless good reasons are shown. The different roles of prisoners' friends and interpreters is discussed. It is recommended that trained interpreters be used wherever possible even if the witnesses are largely able to be understood by English-speaking jurors. The article also discusses ways in which police, counsel and judges can more fairly elicit relevant information from Aboriginal people or from people of mixed descent in the English language. It is recommended that trial judges should give suitable direction to juries before the witnesses are called, drawing attention to the main areas where misunderstandings may occur, that judges need to be more pro-active to prevent forms of advocacy likely to operate unfairly to Aboriginal people, and that prosecutors need to ensure juries are informed of the relationships between the victim, witnesses and accused, as well as other relevant cultural information. The article discusses ways in which this can be achieved, and reflects upon changes which have emerged in the criminal justice system since the employment of these techniques began to be used in the mid 1990s.
Author: Dean Mildren