Vernacular language over English: SC Asks Trial Courts To Record Testimony In Its Original Language

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its disapproval with some trial courts’ practise of recording witness depositions only in English, as translated by the judge, even when the witness testifies it in a different language.

A Bench comprised of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Bela M. Trivedi agreed that the witness’ evidence should be recorded in their language as much as possible before being translated into the language of the court for forming part of the record.

“… recording of evidence of the witness in the translated form in English language only, though the witness gives evidence in the language of the court, or in his/her own vernacular language, is not permissible,” the Court noted.

According to the bench, it would be easier to understand what was said if one could read the witness’s original deposition in the language tin which it was written in.

“As a result, the text and tenor of the evidence, as well as the demeanour of a witness in court, can be best appreciated when the evidence is recorded in the witness’s language. Even if there is no doubt about what the witness said in his or her testimony, the original deposition of the witness must be considered, not the translated memorandum in English prepared by the Presiding Judge “, the Court noted.

The Court made these remarks while hearing an appeal filed by the accused in a rape case involving allegations of false promise to marry.

In its ruling, the Court noted that despite the prosecutrix’s deposition being taken in her vernacular language, the trial court recorded it in English.

The Bench continued by criticising the practise, noting that it is also used in criminal proceedings and that depositions or testimony from witnesses who speak a language other than English is only recorded in English after being translated by the judge.

This prompted the Court to emphasise the importance of trial courts adhering to the provisions of Section 277 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) when recording witness testimony. Section 277 addresses the language in which evidence in criminal trials should be recorded.

According to the provision, if a witness gives evidence in a language other than the court’s, “it may, if practicable, be taken down in that language.” If it is not practicable to record such evidence in the language in which it is given by the witness, a “true translation” in the language of the court must be prepared.

The Supreme Court said that under this rule, “the court may dispense with such translation only when the witness provides evidence in English and is taken down as such, and a translation thereof in the language of the court is not sought by any of the parties.”

As a result, the Court instructed trial courts to properly follow Section 277 CrPC’s requirements while recording witness testimony.

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