Communicating with Interpreters in Court

Posted on 06/28/2010
In Legal Interpreting



Supreme Court interpretingCourt interpreters are an integral part of trials and many other procedures that extend beyond the courtroom.

Having interpreters in court is essential for fairness in a multilingual and litigious society.

However, this wasn’t always the view. In the past, interpreters in court were considered superfluous or even a nuisance. Now, people realize the importance of court interpreters.

A better understanding of what interpreters do in court, what they need and how difficult their work can be is the best way to start a professional relationship.

Court Interpreter Influx

The Court Interpreters Act was passed into law in 1978. The law established that individuals involved in federal proceedings have the right to a court interpreter if a language barrier affects communication and comprehension abilities.

Before the Court Interpreters Act, court interpreters were often found at the last possible second. Court interpreters generally knew very little about the cases or were treated poorly by the people involved in the trial, who did not understand the skills court interpreters need to have.

As interpreters became a required part of the judicial system, relations improved between court interpreters and lawyers as well as court administration. The federal government began to develop programs to certify court interpreters.

While there is no widespread system of required certification for interpreters yet, high standards are now set for court interpreters everywhere. Interpreters in court are recognized as a vital part of the legal process.

How to Interact with Interpreters in Court

Court administrators should include or provide the following essential items or services for interpreters in court:

  • Access to administrative assistance as needed for data entry and correspondence.
  • Courtrooms fitted with any equipment needed for language interpreting or tools for people who are hard of hearing.
  • Electronic access to filed documents so that interpreters may review a case before working on it.
  • A procedure for requesting interpreting equipment or other resources.
  • A designated judge or other high-ranking court official that interpreters can petition for advice regarding any ethical issues that may arise during a trial.

Whether a court is working with interpreters on staff or freelance interpreters, training and improvement should always be considered. Administrators should offer conferences or training programs for interpreters, and arrange for programs in which interpreters from other areas can visit and exchange ideas.

These networking and training opportunities can be vital for interpreters in court.


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