As Chair of the Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity I am pleased to commend to all those involved in the administration of justice the Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals. These standards represent a major milestone towards reducing the impediments which language may place in the path to justice. I hope that these Standards will soon come to be regarded as an essential and practical resource for every Australian Court and Tribunal.

The Recommended Standards and accompanying rules and annotations provide the first comprehensive guide with respect to practices and procedures which might be adopted by courts, judicial officers, interpreters and legal practitioners when providing interpretation in the setting of a court or tribunal. Taken together, the material in this document is intended to provide a guide to best practice in the application and utilisation of interpreters in courts and tribunals.

In a multicultural country such as Australia, robust and consistent standards that provide for the proper and effective use of an interpreter are essential to the fair and equal administration of justice. They are not a luxury or an advantage, but an essential requirement. A fundamental principle of a fair trial is that the proceedings must be understood by those involved and all key parties must be able to fully participate and be understood.

Access to justice, and the capacity to effectively utilise the legal system, requires that active steps be taken to ensure that linguistic barriers and impediments are addressed. As Australia becomes increasingly diverse, two groups within our community are particularly vulnerable to the obstacles which language can place in the path of access to justice, namely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds. The existing pressing need for Australian courts to accommodate linguistically diverse users is likely to increase in the decades to come. The implementation of effective systems and practices, both administrative and judicial, to ensure the proper use of interpreters is essential if those needs are to be met. Implementation of these standards will have cost implications. However, those costs must be viewed in the context of the importance of ensuring that justice is equally available to all Australians, whatever language they speak.

The Recommended Standards have been specifically designed to recognise and respond to the practical limitations which may preclude achievement of optimal practices in all cases and circumstances, including limitations imposed by existing court building layouts, and the limitations imposed by the very limited availability of appropriately qualified interpreters in some languages. The Recommended Standards embody a degree of flexibility in order to accommodate these practical limitations.

The document includes Model Rules and a Model Practice Note that will encourage courts and tribunals to give effect to the proposed standards. The Recommended National Standards are also accompanied by Annotations which offer practical explanations that are intended to assist in improving the effective utilisation of interpreters in court and tribunal settings. While there are currently significant jurisdictional differences in relation to practices with respect to the use of interpreters in courts and tribunals, this document provides guidance with respect to practices and procedures which, if adopted and implemented where feasible, should improve the justice system’s response to Australia’s increasing cultural and linguistic diversity. I encourage all courts and tribunals to assess their current practices and procedures against the recommended standards set out in this comprehensive body of work.

Wayne Martin AC
Chief Justice’s Chambers