In what could change the course of several pending cases in UK courts, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, a judge presiding for the Civil Division of the Court of Appeals, ruled on July 13, 2023, that the winning party in a litigation proceeding is entitled to recover interpreter fees.
This particular case, Raphael De Lima Santiago v Motor Insurers’ Bureau, involves a motor vehicle accident that took place in 2018. Mr. Santiago, the claimant, has little fluency in English and his lawyer had appealed a previous ruling regarding recoverable fees.
This appeal ruling is significant because it reverses what had been established in 2019 on the landmark case of Aldred vs. Cham, another motor vehicle accident case in which the presiding Justice ruled that interpreter fees for non-English speaking claimants were not recoverable.
In the Aldred case, the presiding Justice ruled that the claimant’s lack of English fluency had no bearing on the dispute itself. After this ruling, many courts followed suit and prevented interpreter fees from being recovered.
Interpreter Fees and Access to Justice
In the Santiago case ruling transcript, Justice Stuart-Smith highlights that “the Deputy District Judge gave permission to appeal, observing that the recoverability of interpreters’ fees is raised frequently as an issue in fixed costs cases.” He added that there were many cases that had been stayed awaiting the ruling in this appeal.
The attorneys for the defense argued that the interpreter’s fees were not recoverable, citing the 2019 Aldred vs. Cham case. Justice Stuart-Smith explained for the record that he rejected the defendant’s arguments, including the question of interpreter’s fees not being a matter of access to justice.
According to the ruling record, “If the fees of an independent interpreter fall upon the solicitor, they will act as a financial disincentive to a solicitor who is contemplating whether or not to take on the case of someone who cannot speak adequate English. If they fall upon the vulnerable prospective party, they may have the same disadvantageous effect on her or him, whether they are to be paid upfront or from any damages that may be recovered.” The interpreter’s fee in the Santiago case was GBP 924.
In the UK, an item known as “Fixed Recoverable Costs” (FRC) encompasses all the legal costs a winning party can recover at different stages of a legal proceeding, up to trial. As in the two cases cited above, FRC is typical in personal injury cases, as is the need for interpreters given the country’s demographics.
The current UK government legal provision (download) regarding who is responsible for interpreter fees in court proceedings, last updated in June 2023, establishes that “It is the responsibility of the prosecution and defense to arrange interpreters for their own witnesses at court.”
Failures in the implementation of a massive Ministry of Justice (MoJ) interpreting contract caused the adjournment of around 2,600 court cases in the UK from 2011 to 2016.