The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Offenders are a diverse lot. We deal with people from hundreds of different backgrounds. Those whose English is not up to the technical demands of a court appearance are entitled to an interpreter, and that right is enshrined in the Human Rights Act. There is a list of officially approved interpreters, and for the usual languages there is no problem in finding someone. Just occasionally we run into trouble when the required language is a rare or obscure one, for example Twi, which is a Nigerian dialect. There is, for obvious reasons, a limited supply of qualified Twi interpreters, and if they are all booked we may have to do the best we can while adjourning for the minimum period possible to get the interpreter to court. There are interpreters for Jamaican patois, for Pidgin, and for anything else you can imagine.

Even more exotic are the defendants who need a sign-language interpreter. Such cases always take a lot of time, because the interpreter has to help the lawyer and client to discuss the case before it starts, and then everything in court takes twice as long. On one occasion we were in the middle of a long trial when the signer interpreter, who was a lively young man with an animated manner, was interpreting a complex point of law and his hands and arms started to whirl around in a blur. The defendant appeared to be understanding, but I nearly lost it when one of my colleagues passed me his notepad on which he had written "Tell him there's no need to shout".

There was one such case when two deaf friends went out for a beer one night. The driver was suddenly taken drunk, so his pal, who had also taken a glass or two, offered to drive home. En route he managed to stall the car. The two of them attempted to push-start the vehicle, but in the process the vehicle rolled over the foot of its owner.

A member of the public called the police, and when they arrived they noted that there was a stalled car, a man writhing in pain on the road, and another man kneeling by him crying. The officer asked the usual questions, and received incomprehensible replies. He assumed correctly that both men were drunk, but he assumed incorrectly that this was the cause of their inability to speak. Once they arrived at the police station it dawned on the custody sergeant that there was a communication problem, and a signer was sent for.

The inevitable twelve month ban followed.