Rape conviction overturned: Judge rules Swahili interpreter not proficient enough in English to translate for bilingual defendant

January 22, 2020

A convicted rapist just had his conviction overturned because a judge ruled his interpreter wasn't good enough to provide the man a fair trial.

But that's not the full story.

A recent immigrant from Kenya to Toronto was found guilty in 2018 of raping his Kenyan-born wife.

However, the man, only identified as MR, had his conviction overturned because a judge found that his Swahili to English courtroom interpreter was not proficient enough in English for the man to understand what was happening in the courtroom, resulting in a violation of the man’s Charter Rights.

According to CP24, MR:

“...requested an interpreter during his 2018 prosecution for sexually assaulting his wife, whom he had married in Kenya. Ontario court Judge Mavin Wong agreed to the request, despite opposition from the Crown, which argued MR was sufficiently proficient in English.

MR’s court-appointed Swahili interpreter was a woman named Joyce Mugisa, originally from Uganda. She received some form of interpreter certification in 2007 and has worked intermittently in courtrooms since. The Ontario Justice Ministry only partially accredited Mugisa because her accreditation test scores weren't up to its standards. The judge hearing the appeal heard testimony that Mugisa had difficulty translating MR’s testimony into English.

But, how did the court know Mugisa was getting it wrong? Well, MR knew she was.

During trial, MR had to correct several of the interpreter's mistranslations of his answers. His lawyer again flagged the problem to original trial judge Wong, who took the position that Mugisa was good enough and that MR, with his “very good” English ability, could fully understand the proceedings and correct any further mistakes.

The defendant spoke well enough English to be able to correct his own bad interpreter. In fact, the court relied on MR’s English proficiency — as in his ability to know the interpreter was making mistakes — to determine that this apparently completely necessary Swahili translator was erroneous in her translations.

There is the law and there is common sense and sometimes the two are mutually exclusive.


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