Candice asks:

I have a couple wanting to elope with just their parents and children present. I’m just writing because after looking at the guidelines I’m still a bit unclear and just need clarification on the use of a qualified interpreter. My couple are both deaf and they communicate via Auslan and of course their own beautiful way. Their parents are happy to sign and be there throughout our meetings and on the day. They can sign everything I say, and everything they say in return. Is this sufficient? Or do I need to advise them to organise a qualified person to come along? If the parents are okay to do this, do they still need to fill in a stat dec?

Let’s have a quick reminder: interpreters interpret the spoken word from one language into another; translators translate the written word from one language into another. Now that we’ve got that out the way and we know Candice is using the correct terminology for her situation, let’s answer the question!

Section 112 of the Marriage Act 1961 allows a celebrant to use the services of an interpreter in, or in connection with, a marriage ceremony, if the celebrant believes it is desirable to do so. That word desirable leaves a lot of scope for a celebrant to insist on an interpreter’s presence, which is great news for us; even if a party speaks a small amount of English (or any other language in which the ceremony will be conducted), if we don’t believe their English is sufficiently good that they can understand what’s going on during the ceremony, we’re allowed to insist on an interpreter being present.

The Guidelines 2018 point out that this section also applies to sign languages such as Auslan.

The only requirements for interpreters is that they not be a party to the marriage (i.e. not Party 1 or Party 2), and that they complete some paperwork before and after the ceremony. The Statutory Declaration stating the interpreter understands and is able to converse in the languages they will interpret is completed before the ceremony, and the Certificate of Faithful Performance by Interpreter is completed after the ceremony. Both forms can be found in the same document on the Attorney General Department’s website.

An interpreter does not need to be accredited by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) or any other body. Interpreters can be family members or friends of the parties to the marriage.

When it comes to acting as both interpreter and witness, the Guidelines 2018 do register some concerns with this:

The Marriage Act does not prohibit an interpreter and a witness being one and the same person, however, it is recommended that the professionalism of the interpreter is not compromised by the celebrant agreeing that the interpreter is also a witness to the marriage [emphasis added].

Personally, due to the use of the word professionalism, I see this recommendation as being relevant to hired interpreters rather than family members or friends acting as interpreter. I personally don’t have any issues with an interpreter who is a family member or friend also being a witness to the marriage. Remember this is a Guidelines recommendation, not an Act must, but all celebrants need to be comfortable in their own decisions and ready to justify them if need be.

Regardless of who the interpreter is, they still need to complete the required paperwork before and after the ceremony, and that paperwork needs to be sent in to BDM along with the NOIM, DONLIM and marriage certificate.

Legal stuff

The provision for a celebrant to use an interpreter in, or in connection with, a marriage ceremony is outlined at s112 of the Marriage Act 1961, and further discussed at pp72-73 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018.