The Strongest or the Weakest Link in Arbitration Hearings: Interpreters

Arbitration cases, especially those filed by investors against states, usually require interpretation.  Lawyers are always very meticulous when it comes to legal expert opinions, fact witness statements and drafting the statements of claim. However, they tend to underestimate the importance of interpreters and usually do not include them in the preparation process. However, interpreters assume a critical role in arbitration hearings: They can be the strongest link or the weakest link.

Did you know that our team works in arbitration cases for around 85 interpreter days per year? Here are some tips on how to collaborate with interpreters and make them the strongest link in arbitration hearings:

Before the hearing:

  • Treat your interpreters as a part of the team. Asking for CVs is not enough to find the right team member. The overall success of a case relies on working with interpreters who have legal experience and are specialized in arbitration.
  • It is highly recommended that you integrate your interpreters into the arbitration process as early as possible. Don’t forget to meet them in advance and to brief them. Keep in mind that the arbitrators will not understand a single word of the witness statements or expert opinions delivered in a different language; they will rely completely on the interpreters.
  • Determine a strategy for interpretation. In general, it is up to the arbitrators to choose either simultaneous or consecutive interpretation; the decision is made either by the arbitrators only or together with the lawyers. The lawyers can choose to work with the same interpreters for both parties or each party can hire its own interpreters.
  • In cases where only one party has interpreters, the other party can hire its own interpreters to check the other party’s interpretation.
  • The interpreters should be given enough time to read and understand the case files before the hearing. Interpreters are not legal professionals, so they need ample time to work on and understand the details of the case. It is crucial that they have all the relevant documents at least a couple of weeks in advance, especially since they usually also have other assignments to work on.
  • Parties who are concerned about confidentiality can have the interpreters sign a confidentiality agreement before giving them access to the documents. Remember that confidentiality is a professional requirement and a fundamental principle for interpreters. They keep all documents and information they have access to confidential.

During the hearing:

  • If there is consecutive interpretation, then the interpreter should be be seated next  to the witness and face the arbitrators. They should have a microphone placed in front of them if necessary. Like the witnesses, the interpreters should have a chair and a desk large enough to take notes on and to consult the case files.
  • Take into consideration the interpreters’  recommendations concerning their working hours. Arbitration cases are challenging by their nature and require a high-level of concentration on the part of the interpreters. Asking them to work longer than their normal working hours increases the likelihood of errors.
  • Interpreters must be provided with a copy of all documents provided to the arbitrators and the parties during the hearing. In virtual hearings, a separate screen must be set up for the interpreters to see the documents.
  • Any doubt as to the accuracy of the interpretation should be expressed once the interpreter stops interpreting. The interpreters will correct themselves and thank you for your intervention if there has been an error. Should there be a disagreement as to the accuracy of the interpretation, usually the speaker will be asked to repeat themselves and the interpreters will interpret the same statement once more.  
  • The fact that the interpreters pose a question or ask the speaker to repeat themselves should not be seen as a sign of incompetence or weakness; it means that they are doing their best to convey the message in full.

The interpreters are faced with a challenging task where they may have to interpret comparative law of obligations clauses, borehole and suspension bridge construction techniques, financial analyses and quantum calculations during a single arbitration hearing.That’s why they will need the support of all parties to prepare for the hearing. Interpreters who specialize in arbitration may have attended more arbitration hearings than some of the lawyers on the team. So remember that they have quite a lot of experience and that it is a good idea to listen to their recommendations about interpretation.

Please do not hesitate do get in touch with Enterkon if you would like to benefit from the experience and expertise of Enterkon interpreters who work on arbitration cases for about 85 interpreter days per year.

Ahu Latifoğlu Doğan

Conference Interpreter and Enterkon Board Member