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Key Point

Interpreter's fees are recoverable under SIIIA

Santiago v MIB

[2023] EWCA Civ 838

Here the Court of Appeal grappled with the problem that interpreter's fees were, prima facie, not recoverable as a disbursement in a case to which SIIIA fixed costs applied. Following Cham v Aldred, it was generally accepted that a disbursement could only be recoverable if it arose because of a particular feature of the dispute. In Cham, the disbursement there arose because of a particular feature of the Claimant, namely that they were a child, and thus needed an opinion on quantum before any settlement could be approved. CPR 45.19(2)(e) stipulated that any disbursement not specified could only be recoverable it is arose because of a particular feature of the dispute. As the disbursement arose because of a particular feature of the Claimant, it was not recoverable. The same would therefore apply to interpreter's fees.

However, since Cham had been decided, the Civil Justice Council published a report called 'Vulnerable Witnesses and Parties within the Civil Proceedings/ Current position and Recommendations for Change.' This report was addressing the critical need to ensure fair access to justice, and noted the need for interpreters, and that being unable to understand the proceedings made a person vulnerable, in that they could not participate nor give their best evidence.

The court had regard to CPR 1.2(b) which required the court to give effect to the overriding objective when interpreting any rule, to ensure parties are on an equal footing and that the case is dealt with fairly.

At [62] the court held: the use of the word “other” in sub-paragraph (h) supports the broader interpretation because it implies that the travel expenses and loss of earnings incurred by a party and allowed under sub-paragraphs (f) and (g) are disbursements that are “due to a particular feature of the dispute.” The common feature of such costs is that they facilitate the attendance of a party or witness and thus put the parties on an equal footing by enabling the party or witness to participate fully in the hearing. That is also a defining feature of the cost of an interpreter, without whom the party or witness cannot participate fully in the hearing and, specifically, cannot give their best evidence. Allowing the interpreter’s fee to be recovered under subparagraph (h) is therefore consistent with the inclusion of the disbursements allowed under sub-paragraphs (f) and (g). I would therefore hold that the application of normal principles of construction
does not preclude the interpretation of sub-paragraph (h) for which Mr Williams contends. Far from it: in my judgment, the application of normal principles strongly supports his proposed interpretation. I would have reached this conclusion before the 2021 Amendments.

At [59] the court noted that in Cham, the disbursement was only incurred after parties had settled, so had no impact on reaching the settlement concerned, whereas without an interpreter, a Claimant who did not speak English could not even get their claim off the ground. The court also noted that the cost of counsel's advice was deemded to be included in the costs allowed in Table 6B, whereas if an interpreter's fee was not recoverable as a disbursement, it was not remunerated at all, either actually or notionally.

Therefore the Court of Appeal held that the cost of translator fees were recoverable. At [64] they concluded:

"This distinction permits us to conclude that we are not bound by Cham to adopt an interpretation of sub-paragraph (h) which is not in accordance with the overriding objective on the different facts that are in play in the present appeal. I would accept that the effect of Cham is that a disbursement should ordinarily be held to be “reasonably incurred due to a particular feature of the dispute” within sub-paragraph (h) if it was required to enable the determination by the Court of a particular issue in the case rather than because of a particular characteristic of a party or witness. However, where considerations of access to justice arise, a broader interpretation is necessary to enable the dispute to be determined by the Court in accordance with the overriding objective. It follows, in my judgment, that the independent interpreter’s fee (assuming it to be reasonably incurred) is properly to be regarded as a disbursement falling within sub-paragraph (h)."

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