QUT Centre for Justice members, Assoc Prof Mark Lauchs and Chris Emzin have made a submission to the Queensland Criminal Procedure Review – Magistrates Courts recommending the establishment of courts staffed entirely by Indigenous magistrates, lawyers and clerks.
In 2019–20, Queensland police commenced criminal proceedings against 78,844 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders or 24.2% of all offenders. The courts currently cannot provide proceedings in the first language of Indigenous accused or witnesses. Nonetheless, it is required to do so as a service provided to all Queenslanders.
It is a fundamental human right that an accused be able to understand the proceedings of their court case. Further, it is also essential that witnesses be able to give evidence in their first language. Courts are conducted in Australian Standard English and interpreters are provided for those who speak other languages. This system is far from perfect with an inadequate number of fully trained interpreters being available for most languages. In the case of Indigenous languages the situation is much more dire. Very few fully training interpreters exists for more than a few of the many Queensland languages. None of any standard exist for most. More importantly, all Indigenous Queenslanders speak Aboriginal English, a dialect of English, as their first language. The differences between Australian Standard English and Aboriginal English are so significant that there have been many studies that found that misunderstanding has led to unjust outcomes. As a dialect, interpreters cannot be provided for Aboriginal English.
As we show in our submission, the provision of interpreters and the miscommunication when dealing with Aboriginal English speakers cannot be resolved by any changes to court procedure or other interventions. We recommend that the best way to mitigate the problems is for the court to be staffed with Aboriginal English speakers thus eliminating the need to address miscommunication. This project would take time to organise, provide training and implement. But it is the best, if also imperfect, mechanism by which the courts can meet their obligations to these Queenslanders.
The full submission can be found at the Review Website: Submission from QUT Academics – Criminal Procedure Review—Magistrates Courts: Submissions – Publications | Queensland Government