In April 2020, amendments made to the Civil Procedure Rules came into play which affect the way in which witness statements made in a foreign language must be treated. Amendments to Practice Direction 32 require that a witness statement must be in the witness’s own words and also in their own language. It is important to understand that translation of foreign language witness statements is challenging and requires a comprehensive understanding of both languages, both cultures, the law, and the art of translation.
What is the procedure for translating a foreign witness statement?
When a witness statement has been taken in a foreign language, the recent changes mean that:
- The witness statement must be both in the witness’s own words, and the witness statement they provide must be drafted in the witness’s native language
- Any witness statement must include details of the process by which it was made. For example, if it was taken over the phone or at an in-person meeting. It must also include details of whether an interpreter was used.
- Any witness statement made in a foreign language must be translated into English, with both the foreign language statement and the English translation being filed in Court.
- The translator must sign the translation and confirm that it is accurate
- The witness statement must include the date of translation
Why is accurate legal translation essential when it comes to foreign witness statements?
While there are many highly-qualified translators, legal translation is a distinct and specialist skill. Witness statement translation is a common part of legal translation and is regularly required in court cases involving a witness for whom English is not their first language. The idea behind the changes to Practice Direction 32 is that many foreign witnesses are unable to express themselves as accurately in English as they could in their own language, and this language barrier may have an effect on the case. As a result, a legal translator must be used to provide an accurate translation of the witnesses’ own words. However, it is equally important that the translator’s translation is as accurate as possible, reflecting the nuance of the witnesses’ words.
The legal nature and importance of witness statement translation in court proceedings means that every word must be perfect and considered. In many cases, the witness statement translation can determine the outcome of the case.
Re Phoneer 
In Re Phoneer, evidence was given by two individuals in Cantonese via the medium of an interpreter, but both witnesses provided witness statements in English.
The judge in the case, HHJ Kaye, highlighted that one of the individuals understood English and was able to read his statement in the original English, but the other’s statement was translated to him by his English-speaking secretary before he signed it.
HHJ Kaye said that this was
“unsatisfactory and capable of being unfair to the other side since, faced with statements in English, the expectation—unless instructed to the contrary by one's own clients of course—is that the maker of the statement speaks and understands English. It also potentially causes the court some difficulty as to the reliability of the English, particularly where agreements are being alleged or denied on one side or the other”.
Contact IMD Legal Translation - Witness Statement Translation Services
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