Interpreters an issue in trial

Two trials for police officer Elvis Kelsey Ebanks were discontinued because of interpretation problems.

Ebanks, found guilty in May of soliciting a bribe and breach of trust, faced trial in November and again in February. Both trials had to be stopped because of problems with the interpreters for the Crown’s main witness against Ebanks.

The witness, Elmer Ferreras, is a Filipino national whose first language is Tagalog.

In November, after the witness and the interpreter became emotional, attorney Michael Wingrave subsequently argued that this display was prejudicial to the defendant. Justice Charles Quin stopped the trial, assuring jurors that neither they nor Ebanks nor the witness had done anything wrong.

In February, Justice Malcolm Swift stopped the second trial and discharged the jury after defense counsel and the prosecution raised concerns about the quality and accuracy of translation by the person interpreting the witness’s evidence.

“The decision to stop the trial and discharge the jury happened when the court asked the interpreter whether he was translating the witness’s answers word for word and the interpreter replied, ‘No,’” Justice Swift’s order stated.

The third trial began in April after Justice Swift ruled that a third proposed interpreter was suitable.

Defense attorneys had argued that because of previous problems, the court should use “an official court interpreter.” Justice Swift understood that to mean someone who has qualified as an interpreter by formal examination or testing and experience, or someone on a national register such as the National Register of Professional Interpreters in the U.K.

“Perhaps in an ideal world, the courts of every jurisdiction should have easy access to such a register,” Justice Swift commented. “However, this is not an ideal world and such a register does not exist in the Cayman Islands.”

He said the options were stark – either an interpreter should be brought to Cayman from a jurisdiction where “official court interpreters” can be located or else the court should authorize the use of interpreters who have the necessary fluency in the language spoken by the witness even if the interpreter has no official experience.

The right to a fair trial includes the requirement that the evidence called by the Crown should be given through an interpreter who performs his function correctly and accurately, the judge noted.

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