The competence of Supreme Court Registrars to translate Assessor trials has come under dispute after Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke refused to proceed with a murder trial on Tuesday this week.
The defendant had been transported in from Tanumalala prison, counsels were ready, and five assessors had taken their seats in Justice Leiataualesa’s court room when the Supreme Court Justice announced the hearing could not proceed because the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (MJCA) was unable to provide a competent translator for the case before him.
Defendant Faranisisi Molia of Tufuiopa and Lotopa faced charges of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, assault, grevious bodily harm and being armed with a dangerous weapon.
“Regrettably, this hearing is unable to proceed today,” said Leiataualesa.
“Over recent years and in more recent months and weeks, the MJCA has not retained its experienced Court Registrars, able to translate in Assessor trials;
“The result is that presently, only one Court Registrar has the skills and knowledge satisfactory to me, to competently translate for an Assessor trial”, said Leiataualesa.
“In weeks such as this where there are two Assessor trials, it is not possible to proceed”.
Justice Clarke did not name the Court Registrar but went on to say that where that Registrar is sick, or absent, Assessor trials in the Supreme Court of Samoa are placed at risk.
He added that his concerns as to the translation of proceedings, was also shared by prosecution and defense counsels.
Contacted for a comment the Chief Executive Officer of MJCA Susuga Moliei Simi-Vaai says the Court, “has competent translators in the current team”.
“Like any workplace, trained staff move on for various reasons and some to better opportunities. They go with our blessings and support”.
“The judges decision to adjourn this case is the prerogative of the judge”, said the MJCA CEO.
However in vacating the hearing date for the murder trial set before him, Justice Leiataualesa explained that the translation of Court proceedings for Assessor trials requires specialised competency and knowledge “for the precise, accurate and complete translation of legal and of medical terms”..
“These are in particular critical for the translation of the Court and Counsel addresses, the medical evidence, the Closing by counsels and the Summing Up by the Court.”
Leiataualesa further elaborated on the impacts of translations in an Assessor trial..
“From the Court and counsel address to Assessors on complex matters of Law to the medical evidence where precise medical terms are used by the pathologist and medical practitioners in the giving of their evidence to the evidence more generally”.
Justice Leiataualesa said errors in translation can result in the declaration of a mis-trial or appeals of the Assessor’s verdict.
“This is not acceptable nor am I prepared to conduct an Assessor’s trial on this basis”, concluded Justice Clarke.
The Supreme Court Justice then apologised to counsels, witnesses, the accused and the Assessors, saying the risk should have been identified by the MJCA and addressed beforehand.
“I am ready to proceed with the hearing today, but those circumstances that I have outlined, this hearing cannot proceed;
“This issue had been raised by the Judiciary before today. These limitations must be urgently addressed by the Registrar of the Supreme Court;
“To counsels, witnesses, the accused and the Assessors – I record my sincere regret for the significant inconvenience this has caused to all of you..”
Justice Leiataualesa further explained to the accused that his matter would be adjourned for further mention on Monday 5th October at 10am, to set a new hearing date.
“As you are a prisoner, you will remain in prison to be brought back on the 5th of October at 10am. Counsel may apply for an early hearing date if they choose to do so”.