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Evidence from witnesses who do not speak English


As this is an issue which is cropping up more and more in recent years, it is helpful to have this clear and comprehensive guidance from the High Court, courtesy of Singer J   (actually echoing the guidance of Jackson J in 2013, NN v ZZ [2013] EWHC 2261 (Fam) but helpful to jog people’s memories – I had missed it first time around)


Re  A, B, C and F (children) 2015


 At my invitation, counsel made submissions about the way in which evidence from witnesses who do not speak English should be prepared. In the light of those submissions, I record the following basic principles:

(1) An affidavit or statement by a non-English-speaking witness must be prepared in the witness’s own language before being translated into English. This is implicit from Practice Direction 22A of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, paragraph 8.2 of which states that:

Where the affidavit/statement is in a foreign language –

(a) the party wishing to rely on it must –

(i) have it translated; and

(ii) must file the foreign language affidavit/statement with the court; and

(b) the translator must sign the translation to certify that it is accurate.

(2) There must be clarity about the process by which a statement has been created. In all cases, the statement should contain an explanation of the process by which it has been taken: for example, face-to-face, over the telephone, by Skype or based on a document written in the witness’s own language.

(3) If a solicitor has been instructed by the litigant, s/he should be fully involved in the process and should not subcontract it to the client.

(4) If presented with a statement in English from a witness who cannot read or speak English, the solicitor should question its provenance and not simply use the document as a proof of evidence.

(5) The witness should be spoken to wherever possible, using an interpreter, and a draft statement should be prepared in the native language for them to read and sign. If the solicitor is fluent in the foreign language then it is permissible for him/her to act in the role of the interpreter. However, this must be made clear either within the body of the statement or in a separate affidavit.

(6) A litigant in person should where possible use a certified interpreter when preparing a witness statement.

(7) If the witness cannot read or write in their own native language, the interpreter must carefully read the statement to the witness in his/her own language and set this out in the translator’s jurat or affidavit, using the words provided by Annexes 1 or 2 to the Practice Direction.

(8) Once the statement has been completed and signed in the native language, it should be translated by a certified translator who should then either sign a jurat confirming the translation or provide a short affidavit confirming that s/he has faithfully translated the statement.

(9) If a witness is to give live evidence either in person or by video-link, a copy of the original statement in the witness’s own language and the English translation should be provided to them well in advance of the hearing.

(10) If a statement has been obtained and prepared abroad in compliance with the relevant country’s laws, a certified translation of that statement must be filed together with the original document.


About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

4 responses

  1. ashamedtobebritish


  2. Pingback: Evidence from witnesses who do not speak Englis...

  3. Some years ago I got an acknowledgement of service (not a family case) back from a defendant in Germany, served by leave, and in the space about whether or not he was going to defend he had written MIR IST SCHEISSEGAL. I just filed a witness statement saying that that was colloquial German meaning I COULDN’T GIVE A SHIT and nobody every queried the procedure which I had adopted!

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