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Australian Court Interpreting and Translation services during COVID-19

COVID-19 restrictions and how they have impacted the work of court interpreters and translators in Australia, the response and the changes to the restrictions as well as some proposals for solutions to the challenges. IV CITAS conference,  31 July 2020, Serbia

I am honoured and privileged to have been invited to represent Australian court interpreters at this conference dedicated to Interpreters and Translators during COVID-19 event organised by the Serbian Court Interpreters and Translators Association in Serbia.
My name is Silvana Pavlovska and have been practicing translation and interpreting in Macedonian, Serbian and Croatian for nearly 40 years. I hold a university degree in Interpreting and Translation from an Australian University as well a Post Graduate Degree in Journalism. I own and operate Language Experts Pty Ltd, a national company which provides interpreting, translation and linguistics services to both government and private sector clients. I have developed and delivered the Legal and Court Interpreter Course and the Police Interpreter Course over the last twenty years. I have also published two publications on Legal and Court Interpreting and Medical and Health Interpreting and have presented at national and international conferences.
My preferred area of interpreting and translation is court and law enforcement. Due to my experience and industry involvement I am very well placed to talk about matters related to court interpreting and translation in Australia. 
My presentation will provide you with some information on the topic of COVID-19 restrictions and how they have impacted the work of court interpreters and translators in this country, the responses and the changes as well as some proposals for solutions to the challenges. 
In Australia, professional interpreter and translator services have been in existence officially since the early 1970s, during which time we saw the introduction of training at TAFE colleges and Universities and the establishment of the NAATI testing body.
Interpreter and translator services are mostly provided to government which delivers its services with an assistance from an interpreter and translator. Such services are provided in accordance with the Commonwealth Government policies on Access and Equity in line with its Multicultural policies. This means that the government has a commitment to provide services to disadvantaged persons who are unable to communicate well in English when dealing with government and government funded organisations, which includes the public courts.
Interpreters in all government settings are normally engaged where a person has difficulty understanding English or is deaf and this affects the person’s capacity to understand their rights and obligations and inhibits their ability to communicate with a court or tribunal.
In a court or tribunal, the need for interpreter assistance is assessed on a case by case basis. The need for services is determined by:
Asking the person if they need access to an interpreter
Assessing the person’s speaking ability by asking questions that require a narrative response or explanation
Assessing the person’s comprehension and communication ability by asking questions that engage the person.
The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) works with industry professionals to set the minimum standards of performance across several areas of competency. A certification test assesses candidates against these standards. Candidates who demonstrate that they meet the standards are awarded NAATI certification.
For court purposes the appropriate level of certification is the Certified Interpreter/Translator level, the first professional level. Practitioners who provide interpreting/translation services in court must provide their certification level, qualification and experience when on assignment.
Certified Interpreters must adhere to the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct developed by AUSIT (The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators) which has been unilaterally accepted Australia wide.
Most interpreting in legal proceedings takes place onsite in the court rooms. However, since the start of COVID-19 in March 2020, there have been drastic changes to the method of delivery of interpreter services.
During March and April 2020 in some jurisdictions, interpreters attended courts in person, however since May 2020, the methods of delivery have been via telephone interpreting and video conference interpreting.
Telephone interpreting as we all know, does not allow the interpreter to be seen or see people in the court room, whereas video conference interpreting does allow visual representation of all parties.
It appears that courts have favoured the video conference interpreting method more than telephone interpreting since March this year as they have been using video conferencing facilities that transmit and receive both video and audio and can be dialed by the courts. For example, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) courts and tribunals are using either a SIP address (something that looks similar to an email address) or an ISDN (something that looks like a telephone number). These arrangements are put in place well in advance of any proceeding.
In criminal matters, in the ACT for instance, interpreters are arranged by either the CDPP or ACT Policing for witnesses and defendants in the ACT Supreme and Magistrates Courts. Matters related to Protection Orders are arranged by the Magistrates Court. In civil matters, appeals and other non-criminal matters in the courts, parties are required to organise interpreters at their own expense, including for witnesses that require an interpreter.
During COVID-19 lockdown, demand for interpreter services as already mentioned declined drastically.
Many of the pending court hearings where interpreters were assigned to interpret the proceedings, were required to be converted to telephone or video conference interpreting assignments of the same duration as the onsite interpreting assignments i.e., half day or full day bookings.
This necessitated interpreters to work from home as the courts closed their doors in line with the government restrictions. Furthermore, interpreters were all of a sudden faced with enormous challenges when working from home providing either telephone or video conference interpreting. Working from home is not a very suitable environment as all other members of the family are also at home, including pets, distractions and noises, issues with internet connection and specifications, necessary training and so on. Interpreters had reported that working from home makes life very stressful and also pretty lonely as they are isolated and have no contact with other interpreters. Interpreters’ incomes also plummeted.
Interpreting and translation services in Australia are considered as essential services including services provided in courts.

                                                                                Copyright © Language Experts Pty Ltd 1993 - 2020
This presentation is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

                                         For a full transcript of the presentation please the Serbian Court Interpreters and Translators Association, Serbia​.

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