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THE PERILS OF USING A TRANSLATOR IN CIVIL LITIGATION

In Alam v Alam et al - see https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2023/1460.html, the evidence of a witness, whose statement was translated from Urdu to English, was excluded.


It transpired during cross examination that the witness spoke Punjabi but not Urdu. Therefore the witness could not understand either the Urdu or the English version of his statement that had been presented to the Court. Further, the witness admitted that he had simply accepted whatever had been put in front of him as a statement by the solicitors, without checking the content for accuracy.


The rules concerning the translation of witness statements are fairly exacting. However, this was not a case where a statement was excluded for a breach of the applicable formalities, but where the statement was shown in cross examination to be wholly unreliable.


Why the statement had not simply been translated from Punjabi to English was not clear, from the short part of the judgment which addressed this issue. It is likely the other party put their counsel on notice that the witness did not speak Urdu. The case demonstrates the importance of complying with the Civil Procedure Rules, which require that the witness has properly understood the statement.

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