Persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) and those who are deaf or hard of hearing face special challenges when they use the judicial system, and Court Interpreters serve a fundamental role in providing access to justice for these individuals.
Who is Entitled to an Interpreter?
In New York State, parties and witnesses who are unable to understand or communicate in english or cannot hear the court proceedings are entitled to an interpreter at every stage of a proceeding, in all types of court cases. (Part 217 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts, 22 NYCRR Part 217). A judge may presume a need for an interpreter when an attorney or self-represented party advises the Court that a party or a witness has difficulty communicating or understanding English, or that a party is deaf or hard of hearing. If a request for an interpreter has not been made, but it appears that a party or witness has limited ability to communicate or understand court proceedings in English, a judge should ask a few questions (on the record) to determine if an interpreter is necessary:
|Sample Questions to Assess the English Proficiency of a Party or Witness:|
Explain The Role of the Court Interpreter
It is important that the party who needs an interpreter understands the role of the interpreter.
|The judge should instruct the interpreter to communicate the following information to the party, as it is read aloud by the judge, in the courtroom:|
Swear in the Interepter
All interpreters should be sworn-in. Placing the interpreter’s appearance on the record underscores the importance of adhering to the principles of good court interpreting. Also, when the interpreter states his or her name, it is a good opportunity to inquire whether any party knows the interpreter. This question can eliminate potential conflicts or the appearance of impropriety.
Sample Interpreter's Oath
How Do I Know If The Interpreter Is Qualified?
The UCS uses two types of Court interpreters:
- Staff Court Interpreter (UCS employee) or
- Per Diem Court Interpreter (freelancer/voucher- paid) from the UCS Registry of Qualified Court Interpreters.
Foreign language interpreters from both groups have satis- fied the court system’s language-skills screening process and assessment exams, as well as a criminal background check; Sign language interpreters are required to hold certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). The clerk or other court staff are responsible for confirming an interpreter’s qualifications prior to schedul- ing the interpreter to appear at your court.
Occasionally, the court may need to call upon an interpreter who is neither a staff court interpreter nor a per diem interpreter on the UCS Registry of Qualified Court Interpreters. Such interpreters should be used only on an emergency basis, if a staff or eligible per diem interpreter is not available, and if remote interpreting cannot be arranged. If the court is unsure of an interpreter’s qualifi- cations, the judge should review the interpreter’s credentials by asking a few questions (on the record) at the outset of the court proceeding:
|Sample VOIR DIRE Questions to Assess Court Interpreter Qualifications:|
Advise the Jury
Explain to jurors that languages other than English may be used during the proceeding. Even if members of the jury understand the non-English language that is being spoken, jurors must base their decision on the evidence presented in the English interpretation. (See PJI 1:87 for a jury instruc tion on interpreters.)
Assess the Performance of the Court Interpreter
A judge’s observations can aid in the evaluation of an interpreter’s performance, even if one does not speak the language that is being interpreted. Accordingly, consider the following to determine if the interpreter is communicating effectively during the proceeding:
- Are there significant differences in the length of interpretation as compared to the original testimony?
- Is the interpreter leading the witness, or trying to influence answers through body language or facial expressions?
- Is the interpreter acting in a professional manner?
- Is the interpretation being done in the first-person? For example, while verbally translating what is being said in court, the interpreter will relay the words as if he/she is the person speaking.
- If the interpreter has a question, does he or she address the Court in the third-person (e.g. “Your honor, the interpreter could not hear the last question...”) to keep a clear record?
How Do I Get An Interpreter For My Court?
Depending on your location, a court administrator, clerk or senior court interpreter is responsible for scheduling and assigning interpreters to the court. If there is no local inter- preter available to appear in-person at your court, REMOTE INTERPRETING, by phone or video-conference from another UCS location, can be arranged.