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Witness Statements and the complexities of language: A legal minefield? Bahia v Sidhu & Anor [2022] EWHC 875 (Ch) - Rochelle Powell, Temple Garden Chambers

26/04/22. Mr Bahia was born in India, but had lived in the UK for over 50 years. As at the date of the trial, he was 72 years old. Mr Bahia provided two witness statements, in the second he stated:

English is not my first language, but I have an understanding of it. My usual way communicating is by speaking a mixture of Punjabi and English. The meaning of certain words and phrases used in the case have been explained to me by my solicitors. The discussions I have had with my solicitors for the preparation of this witness statement have mostly been in English.”

When it came to his oral evidence, Mr Bahia was “plainly hesitant” about speaking in and understanding the English language, confirming during his evidence that “my English is not very good”. He required an interpreter for the entirety of his evidence, even requesting that paragraphs to which he was taken in his second statement should be translated before he was asked a question about them. Upon being questioned about his grasp of English, Mr Bahia accepted that there were “many” words in his English witness statement which he did not understand. When asked during the course of his evidence, to spend time reminding himself of the content of his statement, without discussing it with others, he admitted that it had been necessary for him to seek assistance as to the translation from his son.

The defendant’s case

The defendant submitted that Mr Bahia’s statements were in breach of CPR PD32 and CPR PD57AC, on the grounds that (i) they were not in his own words (CPR PD32 §18.1); (ii) they had not been drafted in his own language (i.e. in a language in which he was sufficiently fluent to give oral evidence, including under cross examination (CPR PD32 §18.1, CPR PD57AC §3.3); and (iii) the statement of truth was not in his own language (CPR PD32 §2.4). It was submitted that the above breaches were serious and the court was invited to approach...

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