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Multilingual Legal Hearings: How to Plan for Success

When a legal hearing involves international expert witnesses, it is vital that the case does not fail because the parties involved cannot understand the proceedings. Here are our top tips for working with translators and interpreters on global cases.


Preparation is key

Having spent months or sometimes years preparing your case, evidence and witnesses, you need to use equal care to outline your language requirements.

Whether you are employing translators or interpreters, explain the nature of the case and provide as much reference material as possible. If you are sending documents for translation, provide final versions of files with editable text and agree in advance how any written notes, graphs etc. will be handled in the translated versions.

For interpreters who will be assisting at the hearing itself, it is vital that they have information in advance – think of them as part of the legal team and make sure they are thoroughly prepared; it will optimize the court process. In addition to providing copies of the witness statements, it is useful for the interpreter to know when each witness is expected to give testimony, how long it will take for them to give evidence and the type of language support they need.

Choosing the right team

Preparing your brief will help focus the make-up of the interpreting team. If the hearing requires the questions to and answers from the witness to be understood, consecutive interpreting is usually best. For example, in a case with a French speaking witness, the barrister asks a question and then pauses while the interpreter asks this in French. The interpreter then listens to the witness response in French and then renders it into English for the barrister and the rest of the court.

Although consecutive interpreting usually requires one interpreter, the court day does not allow for the regular breaks they require. Consequently, if there is a full day of testimony in a foreign language with highly complex subject matter, two interpreters working on a rota basis may be needed. Often the sitting judge will insist on this to maintain the quality of the interpretation.

Simultaneous interpreting is sometimes used if everyone in the court needs to understand all proceedings, for instance if the witnesses want to understand all given testimonies not just the questions specifically addressed to them. A team of at least two interpreters and specialist equipment will be required for this type of approach.

Legal language specialists are extremely skilled professionals; they need to be fluent in both languages, have an extensive legal vocabulary and understand the correct protocol when dealing with documents or engaging in court proceedings. Nevertheless, the assistance and clarity which a qualified language services provider can bring to your case is invaluable. We often hear of court cases being dismissed because the interpreters are not sufficiently qualified or documents need to be re-translated. What may have seemed cheaper in the first instance can end up being a very costly and time-consuming exercise.

Take care of the practicalities

For interpreters, in addition to the days required in court think about building in some or all of the following:

  • Preparation time
  • Retainer days either side of the hearing dates to allow for slippage in the schedule
  • Assistance with witness preparation and briefing parties on how to work with an interpreter

For written translations, you may need to allow for:

  • A premium service which includes translation and proofreading
  • A sworn statement or certification

You may also need your language professionals to sign NDAs and have clear instructions about what to do with documents once the case is over.

At RWS Alpha, we work on complex high court proceedings and legal depositions throughout the world and have an extensive network of legal language specialists. Our experienced project managers take clients through every stage of the process ensuring they have the best team of translators, interpreters and technicians in place. To take advantage of our expertise please contact You can also find more information on our website.