The translation of documents in family cases must be paid for by the party who requires it, but only if they have legal aid, a court has ruled.
In a family court hearing at Chelmsford, Her Honour Judge Lynn Roberts considered the case of a legally aided Polish couple whose child had been made the subject of an emergency protection order earlier this year. Issued under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989, these allow local authorities to remove children who are thought to be at immediate risk of significant harm. Suffolk County Council began care proceedings in May.
However, the parents’ command of English was poor and they were therefore at a major disadvantage in the courtroom. Judge Roberts explained:
“They are … entitled to non means, non merits tested legal representation. Their English is such that they are unable to read the documentation unless it is translated into their own language, in this case Polish.”
Suffolk County Council paid for the translation of the documents produced during the initial proceeding but Judge Roberts was asked to consider the question of responsibility for funding the subsequent required translations.
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) is responsible for the distribution of the limited amount of legal aid still available. It was invited to intervene in the case and submit its views in order to help the court reach a decision on the issue which could be “relied on in this case and in others”. However, despite a formal invitation from the court, the LAA declined to take part.
This was, said Judge Roberts, “a surprise to me”. She suggested the Agency may have misunderstood the invitation.
Suffolk County Council asked the court to consider four options for the funding of court translations:
“- 1. that the party requiring the translation funds this on their certificate;
– 2. that the Local Authority pays all the translation costs;
– 3. that the translation costs are shared between the parties in equal shares;
– 4. that each party translates all of their own documents.”
Their favoured option, however, was one, and Judge Roberts favoured this position as well. She declared:
“In my judgment it is not right for the costs of the translation of documents produced in the proceedings to be shared equally…I consider that the party who needs the documents translated should bear the costs and in this case that means that the LAA must bear the costs incurred on that party’s public funding certificate.”
Translations should be undertaken only of those documents “necessary … in order to understand the case”, she explained, with the person’s solicitor expected to provide them with a summary of the other parts.
The judgement can be read here.