Warning! Is your court witness statement made correctly?
As a qualified interpreter I happen to interpret in court at different stages of proceedings and have recently observed how failure to follow rules can diminish the claimant's chances of winning a legal case.
Specifically, I refer to civil proceedings when in April 2020 important changes were made to Practice Direction 32 of Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) in relation to foreign language statements. Clause 18.1 says “the witness statement must, if practicable, be in the intended witness’s own words and must in any event be drafted in their own language, the statement should be expressed in the first person and should also state: […] (5) the process by which it has been prepared, for example, face-to-face, over the telephone, and/or through an interpreter.”
Furthermore, Clause 23.2 clarifies that “where a witness statement is in a foreign language, (a) the party wishing to rely on it must (i) have it translated; and (ii) file the foreign language witness statement with the court; and (b) the translator must sign the original statement and must certify that the translation is accurate.”
I am drawing attention to these details because a party in a civil case trial where I acted as an interpreter once tried to get a witness statement thrown out because an incorrect procedure was followed. A witness provided details of the case to a statement-taker via an interpreter, the statement taker then put the statement together in English and asked the witness to sign it after they went through the final version again with the interpreter. The proper process would have been to have the statement written down in the witness’s language (and it is not limited to the witness's first or native language) and then have it translated into English and filed to court with the translator’s certification.
There has already been at least one case where incorrectly taken statements were disallowed. In Correia v Williams heard in the High Court of Justice, the claimant’s solicitor could speak the witness’s language but still drafted the statement in English and signed a certificate of translation. The judge held that it was not admissible as a witness statement, adding that “it is only fair to the witness that they give their statement in their own language, because if they get it wrong, they may lose the case, whichever side they are for, and they run the risk of being in contempt of court.”
While it is not appropriate for us, interpreters, to give legal advice, we are more than happy to work with legal teams – barristers, solicitors, paralegals as required at various stages of a court case – towards a successful resolution of a claim.