Courts and legal practitioners must take a rigorous approach to the preparation and interpretation of statements from witnesses who do not speak English, High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson has declared.
Ruling in a complex fact finding hearing involving a family of Pakistani origin living in England, the judge stressed the need for “clarity about the process by which a statement [from a non-English speaking witness] has been created.”
The case, a residence dispute following the breakdown of the couple’s marriage, involved allegations that the husband had stranded his wife in Pakistan, separating her from their two children for more than five months. The hearing involved no less than seven witness statements delivered via interpreters.
The judge noted that one witness had not read through the English translation of witness statement before signing it and had only noticed inaccuracies in this when the contents were discussed with her. Another Pakistani had been unable to clearly explain how his statement, in English, had been drawn up.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said:
“Issues of this sort can arise whether or not a party is legally represented. In international cases, the contribution of experienced solicitors of the kind found in this case is invaluable, and I do not intend to be unduly critical of those involved. What occurred is nonetheless procedurally irregular and potentially unfair to the parties and to the witness.”
After delivering his findings on the various allegations made by each party about the other, the judge set down ten “basic principles” for the use of witness statements requiring translation in court.
They state in part that:
*Statements should initially be drawn up in the witness’s native language before translation into English.
*Statements should feature an explanation of how it was taken – face to face, over the telephone, written down, etc.
*Solicitors, when involved, should be fully full participate in taking statements.
*Solicitors should actively investigate the provenance of statements from witnesses who do not speak or read English.
*Witnesses should be allowed to read and sign statements in their native language before translation into English. Solicitors fluent in the witness’s language may act as an interpreter but this must be made clear.
*Litigants in person should try to use certified interpreters.
*Interpreters working with witness unable to read or write in their own language should carefully read out their statements after they have been drawn up, and make it clear that they have done so.
*Solicitors or interpreters should confirm the faithfulness of the translations.
*Non-English speaking witness set to give evidence in person should receive copies of their statements in both their native language and English “well in advance of the hearing”.
*Certified translations of statements obtained abroad must be included when they are filed.
The judge concluded:
“In this case, these basic steps were not observed. As a result, some time was needlessly spent exploring the process by which the statements had been taken, and the court’s task in assessing the witnesses’ evidence was made more difficult, to their disadvantage and that of the party calling them.”