In Sharjah, 17 men sentenced to death are waiting for their appeal to begin. The delay - caused by the lack of an appropriate translator - illustrates the challenge that courts face in serving a multicultural population, officials say. Arabic is the official language in courts, but a majority of the cases involve expatriates who do not speak it. According to the law, all documents and court proceedings must be submitted in Arabic or an Arabic translation.
Court officials say they recognise the implications for the judicial process and are seeking ways to recruit qualified translators. "Finding translators is a big challenge for us," said Manhal Dawood, the head of the translation unit at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD), which has more than a dozen courts across the emirate. There are 51 translators serving those courts. Of those, 25 are based in the main complex on Khaleej al Arabi Street and 12 are in the Al Ain Court Complex. The remaining translators are sent as needed for the Labour Court in Musaffah, traffic courts, municipality courts and other locations.
ADJD has launched several hiring campaigns for translators, who must meet strict specifications. "There are two different stages that translators go through. First they have the written exam and then we test them in the courtroom," Mr Dawood said. According to a 1981 federal law, a court translator should have at least a degree from a recognised academic institution, in addition to five years' work experience after graduation.
Only graduates who majored in translation are exempt from the experience requirement. Besides academic and professional training, a translator must be known to be a "good person" and have no criminal record. ADJD has extended its qualifications to people who have studied Islam in an academic institution. In the meantime, court hearings are often postponed and courts rely on unofficial translators to expedite the process.
The Federal Supreme Court, housed in Abu Dhabi, has two full-time translators, only one of whom is recognised as an official translator. Saeed Moosa, 57, originally from Pakistan, has been working for the Federal Supreme Court since he was 20. He has switched positions several times and is currently a translator. "I am not an official translator," he said in Arabic. "But I translate Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Baluchi."
Mr Moosa said he did not hold a university degree, did not attend high school, and had no formal training in Arabic. But, because of the hundreds of cases involving these languages, he is present at every hearing. In cases involving other languages, the court has previously relied on its own foreign employees and, occasionally, even inmates to translate. If no translator can be found, the hearing is adjourned until one can be summoned.
The case of two Chinese Uighurs accused of conspiring to blow up Dubai's DragonMart was postponed three times over two months because there were no translators for their language. In the end, two translators were needed: one to translate Uighur to Mandarin and one for Mandarin to Arabic. The case is continuing. In 2008, a Sudanese judge adjourned the hearing of Shahid King Bolsen, an American charged with murder, after the English-to-Arabic translator mistakenly said Bolsen pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The judge, who was fluent in English, understood Bolsen was pleading guilty to accidentally killing a man and not to first-degree murder. @Email:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org