Multilingual Legal Hearings: How to Plan for Success

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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 Language Solutions, 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.

EWCs: Barely a Blip After Brexit?

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With the official Brexit negotiations underway, it’s a good time to look at the potential impact of the process on European Works Councils (EWCs).

EWCs were created to bring together the employees of large companies operating in a pan-European capacity. The meetings are an opportunity for employees to share concerns with management and receive updates on company developments and strategy. The Directive concerned 2009/38/EC, says any company with more than 1000 employees in the EEA, and at least 150 of them in two member states should establish a European Works Council. Consequently, when the UK leaves the EU, the dynamics of many of these EWCs will be affected.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has emphasised that concerns such as citizens’ rights should be prioritised so it may be some way down the line before we have more clarity on the future of EWCs.  In the meantime, the management teams which organise the meetings, the employees who attend them and the interpreters who facilitate their discussions are all wondering what the outcome will be. The Unite union who has many members involved in EWCs has already held a conference dedicated to this issue.

Philip Sack, Director of European Employers Group has been advising companies on setting up and running European Works Councils and UK Information & Consultation arrangements since 2005. Given his unrivalled expertise on the legislative issues and contacts with EWC organisers, he is the ideal person to comment on the implications of Brexit.

In his view, post-Brexit, EWC legislation is unlikely to apply to the UK and this will have implications on works councils based throughout Europe namely:

  • whether there is a continuing obligation to have a European Works Council
  • the position of UK representatives on a European Works Council
  • possible redistribution of seats on the EWC
  • whether the governing law of the EWC will change.

Those most closely involved think that the UK government will find it difficult if not impossible to maintain the bulk of this unique legislation.  However, for companies whose employee numbers are still above the threshold outlined – even without their UK colleagues – will still need to have an EWC agreement, so companies who have filed their agreement under UK law will need to take action. Agreements can be filed in any EU member state where the company has a presence, so they will need to be transferred, given the similarities in legal system; it seems that many will look to re-file in Ireland. Furthermore, Unite, General Secretary Len McCluskey has argued in favour of finding a solution where UK workers can still have a right to participate in EWCs after the UK exits from the EU. It would certainly be strange to have a situation where some employees may not be able to participate in a council where company strategy is discussed.

For companies where the UK’s withdrawal means they will fall below this threshold, there are perhaps employee relations and practical rather than legal questions on whether to continue. Given the value that the meetings hold for employees and managers to meet and share ideas, Mr Sack believes the likelihood is that many companies will continue to hold their annual or even bi-annual meetings. There is also the practical advantage that if a company subsequently expands in Europe and hits the employee threshold again in the future, there is no need to start from scratch with setting up the works council.

There may be a need to re-allocate the number and allocation of seats but although the UK representatives would not be required to attend, it is still possible with some minor re-wording of the agreement that they can participate as invited guests, or even as full members. Managers are less affected and can be invited from whoever countries are relevant as may guest speakers and industry experts.  As the day-to-day operational team tends to be from management side, people are unlikely to want disruption and many will continue to operate in their existing systems.

In conclusion, while there may be some legislative issues, on the ground there is hope that should they choose to do so colleagues across Europe and the UK will be able to continue to communicate with each other for many years to come.