August 31, 2016 Articles

When Do You Need an English Translator in Civil Depositions?

There is little related case law to guide this decision, but often it's simply a question of fairness

By Robert E. Sumner, IV, and Charles R. Scarminach

“Make sure you understand the question being asked of you, and only answer that question.” All litigators have given this advice to clients preparing for deposition. For clients who speak English as a second or third language, understanding the question may only be possible through the use of a translator. If a non-English-speaking client is denied the use of a translator, the potential harm to their legal interests and the general truth-seeking process is significant. In fact, access to a translator has been deemed so vital to the judicial system that Congress has enacted legislation granting the right to a translator in all “judicial proceedings instituted by the United States.” 28 USCS § 1827(b)(1). In a civil deposition, not including cases instituted by the United States, there is no such right to a translator. Rule 30 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is silent on when it is appropriate to use a translator. The decision to allow the use of a translator at deposition is left to the discretion of the court. See Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist. v. Zhou, Case No. 09-3493, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45661 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 26, 2011); EEOC v. Beauty Enters., Case No. 3:01-cv-378, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13520 (D. Conn. May 21, 2002); Naqvi v. Oudensha America, Inc., Case No. 88-c-6966, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 502 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 16, 1991); Tagupa v. Odo, 843 F. Supp. 630 (D. Haw. 1994).

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