How Do I Know If the Plaintiff
or Defendant Needs a
Foreign Language Interpreter?

Legal Interpreting Services
for Civil Litigators

Legal Interpreting Services for Defense and Plaintiffs Attorneys

Contrary to popular belief, foreign language legal interpreters are needed even when the plaintiff, defendant or witness has enough proficiency in a second language (English) to engage in basic conversations. In the courtroom and in cross-cultural depositions, basic language proficiency is just not enough.

In a legal sense, competency means having the ability to achieve meaningful participation within the legal process. To meet this level of competency, the individual must be able to understand statements made by the judge, opposing counsel, their own attorney, and witnesses- let alone being able to adequately make their own statements.

Although there is no set standard for determining the need of a foreign language interpreter, the following generalities should be kept in mind:

  • Whenever a party requests a foreign language interpreter, the judge should presume a bona fide need for an interpreter.
  • If a party does not request an interpreter, but a question as to the individual’s English language competency exists, one should request that the judge conduct voire dire questioning of the individual. The voire dire questions should not ask for a “yes” or “no” response, but should instead require the giving of a description or narrative.

This information is based on Virginia State Code Section 8.01-384.1:1: Interpreters for non-English-speaking persons in civil cases.

A. In any trial, hearing or other proceeding before a judge in a civil case in which a non-English-speaking person is a party or witness, an interpreter for the non-English-speaking person may be appointed by the court. A qualified English-speaking person fluent in the language of the non-English-speaking person may be appointed by the judge of the court in which the case is to be heard unless the non-English-speaking person shall obtain a qualified interpreter of his own choosing who is approved by the court as being competent.

So next time you need to depose a foreign-born witness, or prepare your foreign client for a deposition, make sure there is a qualified language interpreter present- even when the foreign-born individual is somewhat conversant in English.

Contact our professional translation service to retain professional court interpreters for government debriefings, depositions, hearings, IMEs, settlement conferences, mediation, and arbitrations.

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