12 Aug Use of Interpreters at Trial

Kim v. Khaw, 2014 BCSC 2221, is a case that dealt with the question of whether the use of an interpreter is relevant to the assessment of a Plaintiff’s credibility. The Plaintiff had testified through an interpreter but had served as a translator at various points in his life, including on a paid and volunteer basis.  He had also had taught school in English for seven years in Korea, worked in English in Canada and had passed courses at SFU and Douglas College. During the trial, he demonstrated that he had no difficulties reading documents in English when put to him on cross-examination.

The court outlined the difficulty in hearing evidence through an interpreter, particularly in assessing credibility. Ultimately, the judge found it was reasonable in this case for the Plaintiff to have testified through an interpreter since he was having to give evidence about his mental status, thereby revealing personal and emotional matters and it was understandable that he would chose to do so in his native tongue.

The use of an interpreter on its own is irrelevant to the issue of credibility. There must be some evidence or a reasonable inference that can be drawn from the evidence that the witnesses’ use of the interpreter was not necessary for them to fairly participate in the trial but a deliberate intent to gain some advantage.

The court noted that if counsel intend to raise such an issue, there should be have been an application to oppose the use of an interpreter allowing the court to make the appropriate inquiry into his linguistic understanding of English. At that point it would be open to defense counsel to argue that the use of an interpreter, when not absolutely necessary, lengthened the trial.