The Court of Appeal has upheld a conviction of rape and an eight-year prison sentence against John Michael Soriano.
Soriano, a Filipino national, was convicted of raping his girlfriend’s best friend in February 2019 following a judge-alone trial before Justice Marlene Carter.
Appearing before the appeals court on 3 Sept., Alex Davies, Soriano’s attorney, argued his client’s poor understanding of English, coupled with the failure of his previous legal counsel to raise this issue, allowed evidence to be heard during the trial that should not have been admitted in court.
“We say it is a fundamental right of every defendant to truly and fully understand the charges that are being put to him, and it cannot be said that this was the case for Mr. Soriano,” said Davies. “Mr. Soriano’s primary language is Ilocano and from the time of his arrest, police interview and, indeed, the trial, he did not have an interpreter to properly translate the English language to Ilocano. Instead, he was provided with an interpreter who spoke Tagalog.”
Tagalog is the official language of the Philippines and Ilocano is the third-most spoken language in the country.
Davies told the court that at the time of Soriano’s arrest he was given brief legal advice by attorney John Furniss, who does not speak Ilocano or Tagalog.
“In essence, Mr. Furniss told him to tell the truth,” said Davies. “He should have been told he had the right to remain silent, not just in English, but in his native language.”
During his police interview, Soriano told police he had been drinking and could not remember the incident. During the trial, Soriano abandoned that account and instead claimed the intercourse was consensual, a defence which was ultimately ruled to be fabricated.
Davies told the court that Soriano’s attorney at trial, Dennis Brady, failed to raise the issue with the language barrier at the police interview which allowed it to be used against Soriano. He added Brady failed to properly put forward Soriano’s case and instead chose to focus his efforts on discrediting the victim – a point the appeals court judges partially agreed with.
“Although we accept Mr. Brady’s failure to put his case ultimately resulted in the judge wrongly regarding the fabrication of the Appellant’s account as recent, on a proper analysis of the facts, the Appellant’s credibility was inevitably significantly damaged by the inconsistency between the interview and his ultimate account, irrespective of whether any fabrication was recent,” wrote the judges.
When returning their judgment, the appeals court said the judge was right to arrive at her conclusion and they were satisfied Soriano had a proper grasp and understanding of the English language.
“We have no doubt that had the judge correctly understood the position, she would have been driven to find the Appellant was guilty,” wrote the judges. “In spite of Mr. Davies’ well-argued submissions, it is clear no miscarriage of justice has occurred. We are unable to conclude that the conviction was, or may have been, unsafe.
“We therefore dismiss the appeal against conviction.”