Man kept in cells for days as translator unavailable
AN asylum seeker who broke into an empty house to find somewhere to sleep was kept in jail for two nights as police tried to find an Arabic translator.
Last Wednesday the chairman of the magistrates' bench at Folkestone joined the Crown prosecutor and the man's defence solicitor in criticising the state of translation services.
It was even suggested that his arrest after breaking into the house was a breach of his human rights.
The case of Moroccan Anas Chammakh highlighted many of the problems associated with the increasing number of criminals appearing in court who do not speak English.
Chammakh was arrested after he was caught inside the house in Whitfield Road, Ashford, on July 9. The court heard that Chammakh smashed a window to get in, and was caught inside by the landlord after neighbours told him a window was smashed.
But before the case for criminal damage could go ahead, the court had to rule on the age of the defendant. He claimed he was 17, but after he arrived in Britain in 2011 he was assessed by social services Manchester who said he was lying by at least two years – the court would later be told this was just before he was jailed for handling stolen goods.
Folkestone magistrates agreed to treat him as a 19 year old and heard how Chammakh had initially lied to police in Ashford when they arrested him, claiming he had been in the country for a few weeks.
But investigations revealed he had been here two years and was homeless and penniless. In court he pleaded guilty to criminal damage and was accompanied in the dock by an Arabic-speaking translator.
"He told police he was looking for somewhere to sleep and broke into the house by smashing a window because he had known the people who used to live there," said Neil Sweeney, prosecuting.
He told the court that Chammakh was jailed in April for 16 weeks by Salford magistrates for handling stolen goods, and had been released from prison only two weeks ago.
His solicitor Sophie Reed, also being funded under the Legal Aid programme, told the court her client had spent two days in police cells because no one could be found who spoke the correct Arab dialect.
"Yesterday I went to represent him and there was no interpreter, so this is the third day this defendant has spent in jail for something that police said they would have issued a fixed penalty notice for, but couldn't because he was homeless," she said.
"This situation is a potential breach of his human rights because we are not able to supply any information to the arrested person. We are discriminating against him"
Prosecutor Mr Sweeney said: "A translator not being available is a failure of the system, this was not the fault of the police. We've all experienced difficulties under the new system."
A shake-up of the costly translation service saw the government agree a deal with Applied Language Solutions saving £18million – almost a quarter of the annual spend – but many in the courts believe it has led to delays.
Chairman of the bench Neil Hubbard agreed that the two days Chammakh has spent in jail was sufficient punishment for the criminal damage, and he made no cost or compensation order.
But Chammakh will be given a travel warrant to travel back to Salford, where local social services and the Probation Service can help him benefit from the post-prison arrangements.