TJC Global: About Depositions and Deposition Interpretation
A deposition (or Examination Before Trial [EBT]), usually held before a trial begins, is part of the litigation process for both Civil and Criminal Cases in the United States and Canada and their respective legal systems. It is an out-of-court testimony given by a witness (aka. a deponent) who answers questions put forward by attorneys in order to gather information in preparation for the trial as part of the discovery process. Although depositions fall into the category “hearsay” (a statement which cannot be used as evidence, offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts), there are some circumstances where what is said at a deposition may be admissible at trial. These include when a witness is unavailable for trial, in which case their statement at deposition is read onto record, and when a witness directly contradicts the information given at the deposition during the trial, in which case, the deposition statement can be used to refresh the witness’s memory.
The court is not involved in a deposition and it takes place out of a court room. The only parties present are the deponent, attorneys, someone to administer oaths and possibly a stenographer/court reporter (although many depositions are now recorded electronically) and/or an interpreter if the witness’s first language is not English, and often even if the witness speaks English to a good standard but not fluently, to avoid any confusion.
Recently, the number of non-English speaking witnesses has increased rapidly, which means interpreters are in much demand for this vital part of the legal process. Given the vital importance of depositions, interpreters used in depositions must be experienced, professional and adhere to judicial protocol; the actions of the interpreters often decide the outcome of the trial.
It is important for attorneys during a deposition to look at and to speak directly to the deponent. Interpreters (and it is a sign of a poor interpreter if he/she does not do this) will use the first person when interpreting. Should the deponent say “I do not remember” the interpreter will repeat “I do not remember” and not: “She says she does not remember”. According to ‘The Person Behind the Face: A Lawyer’s Guide to Cross-Cultural Depositions‘ by Nina Ivanichvili (Bench & Bar of Minnesota, Vol. 61, No. 6 | July 2004), ‘a court interpreter’s role is to “translate exactly what is said and at the same level of discourse the speaker uses.” An interpreter in a deposition should not summarize, paraphrase, explain, or verbalize his or her personal opinions. Instead, the interpreter is charged with the task of relating exactly how something is said by counsel and by the non-English-speaking deponent to properly convey the style and form of the message.’
It must be remembered that deposition interpretation will increase the length of the proceedings significantly. In order to avoid any further delays, it is best to opt for an interpreters with extensive experience in depositions and if the case is regarding highly technical / specialist areas, one with relevant expertise in the field. TJC can offer this service.
Also take note that in some languages, English phrases / words do not have a direct equivalent and an interpreter may need longer than you expect to convey the exact meaning of a phrase. In Russian, the word “deposition” itself requires four words to convey. Similarly, the use of double negatives, common in legal argot, can be highly confusing for Japanese speakers (in whose language this construction does not exist) and may take time to process and understand for both the deponent and interpreter.
It is important for legal professionals to remember that it is not only verbal communication that may need interpreting. Non-verbal communication can also vary dramatically from culture to culture. Things like silence (to process the question and answer accurately – a common trait in some cultures); avoiding eye contact (often a sign of respect) and facial expressions can cause confusion and possibly misunderstandings for American attorneys, if cultural discrepancies and their varying significations are not taken into account.
Interpretation in general is a very complex process involving a high degree of concentration as the interpreter attempts to first hear, then understand, analyse, and, ultimately express ideas coherently in the target language, but in deposition this is even more crucial. Language takes on an extra element and nuance, idiom and register can make all the difference. With this amount of pressure, a level of fatigue can set in after too long a spell and the quality of interpreting may be affected. This is why, interpreters do require regular breaks during depositions. This ensures that the quality of interpreting does not decrease over time.
TJC Global’s expert deposition interpreters are highly-skilled, experienced and professional. Their expertise in the area means they can manage these situations efficiently and effectively to ensure transparency and understanding for all parties at all times.
Sources and More Information:
- Wikipedia: Deposition
- The Person Behind the Face: A Lawyer’s Guide to Cross-Cultural Depositions
- Legal Information Institute: Cornell University
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