Queensland Government training language facilitators for courts PDF Print E-mail

Improved opportunities for TAFE graduates.

THE Queensland State Language body has been informed of a proposal by the Queensland Government to train facilitators to assist witnesses and defendants in the judicial system who have Aboriginal English as a first language. The Department of Justice and Attorney-General and the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat (QAILSS) have developed the Aboriginal English in the Courts Project after consultation with representatives from a range of relevant organisations.

The project consists of two parts;
• The production of a Handbook outlining the key issues relating to Aboriginal English in the Courts;
• Development of a training course for facilitators.

The Department is currently negotiating with TAFE Queensland to develop modules for a training course for Aboriginal English facilitators, and aims to see the project generate meaningful employment opportunities for the graduates of the relevant TAFE courses.

The facilitators will be trained in communication skills to help members of their community to deal with all government agencies and the private sector. Facilitators would be paid for their services by the agency utilising their skills.

The draft Handbook - Aboriginal English in the Courts identifies Aboriginal English as the 'first language of most Aboriginal people in Queensland'.

"It is easy to mistake an Aboriginal English speaker for a speaker of Australian Standard English. In a legal proceedings, be it for civil or criminal matters, such a mistake can mean that evidence can be misinterpreted or lost. This can reduce access to justice."

The handbook is based on the work of Dr. Diana Eades, a leading authority on Aboriginal English and the justice system.

In discussing 'Access to Justice' the document states" At present, only adhoc arrangements, if any, are made to deal with the language problems of indigenous people who come before the courts. Because there are so few accredited interpreters in traditional language, a person who needs an interpreter is obliged to use the services of a friend or relative. In the case of Aboriginal English there are further complications due to the difficulty of identifying that the person is not speaking Australian Standard English.

Given that we have an effective interpreting system in place for migrants from non-English speaking countries, who constitute 8 percent of the population and do not share the same levels of disproportionate representation before the criminal justice system, the same attention should be given to formalising a language support system for speakers of traditional languages, Creole and Aboriginal English."

In Queensland, accreditation for language interpreters is dependant on testing and training regimes, which are available for only two indigenous Queensland languages, Wik Mungkan and Dyirbal, as well as for Kala Lagaw Ya from the Western Torres Strait, and Torres Strait Creole. This leaves at least eleven other indigenous languages in Northern Queensland that are still in daily use but have no system for accrediting interpreters.

The Handbook pays attention to problems in recognising the differences between the languages.

"There is a different issue for Aboriginal English.The differences in grammar and meaning between this language and Australian Standard English are not immediately obvious to the average speaker of either language. Their apparent similarities mean that Aboriginal English, in any of its forms, does not lend itself to formal interpretation. For example, members of a jury unfamiliar with Aboriginal English may think they can understand what is being spoken by a witness speaking that language and would find it hard to believe conflicting evidence given by a person interpreting these statements. Also because of the range of grammatical and cultural givens that have to be read in order to comprehend the speaker, an interpreter may have to interpret meanings going beyond the mere language spoken.At a Regional Advisory Committee meeting on legal interpreting in Melbourne in November 1996, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) indicated that it would not set up accreditation for Aboriginal English, as most of the work of the interpreter would be dealing with cultural rather than purely linguistic issues."

It is hoped that the implementation of the Aboriginal English in the Courts project will aid the community, not only in assisting communication and providing employment opportunities for facilitators, but also in formally recognising the existence and uniqueness of Aboriginal English.

For information about the project, please contact Courts Strategy and Research Division on 07 3239 6526