The Employment Tribunal Service will provide an interpreter if you or one of your witnesses doesn’t speak good enough English to give your evidence without one. The best time to ask for an interpreter is at the case management discussion, though a later request will probably also be met.
If you can’t speak English at all, or your English is very poor, you don’t have a decision to make: you need an interpreter.
But if your English is good enough for most practical purposes, but not completely fluent, you need to decide whether or not you are comfortable giving your evidence in English. Not having an interpreter when you need one can be damaging, but using an interpreter has some quite serious disadvantages too, so you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons.
Benefits of using an interpreter
There’s really only one benefit: if you use an interpreter, you will have a better chance of understanding exactly what it is you have been asked, and making yourself clearly understood in reply. The worse your English, the more significant this benefit is.
There are quite a lot of disadvantages.
Interpreting is difficult, and the skill of interpreters varies. If your English isn’t too bad, and your interpreter isn’t very good, interpretation may introduce more confusion than it clears up.
If in fact you understand English pretty well, the tribunal is likely to notice that you have understood questions before they are translated to you. This may make them annoyed with you, or suspicious of you, in various ways. They may be annoyed that you have put the Employment Tribunal Service to the expense of providing an interpreter you didn’t really need. They may be annoyed by the fact that everything is taking longer than it should. They may suspect that your reason for using an interpreter is to play for time – so you have twice as long to decide what to say in response to each question. They may think that means you want to tell them lies.
Using an interpreter places a barrier between you and the tribunal. Instead of looking the tribunal members in the eye and speaking direct to them, you are speaking to another person, who is relaying your answers. It’s less immediate, and likely to be less convincing.
It takes longer. If you’re paying for your representation, that’s particularly bad news – but unless you’re very odd indeed you won’t enjoy being cross-examined, so it’s fairly bad news anyway.