Navigating the Linguistic Jungle in the Legal Setting
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to the Judicial Council of California, every day in
California courtrooms more than 80 different languages
are spoken by parties and witnesses. But, did you
know that anyone who doesn't speak English and is
charged with a crime is entitled to an interpreter
in court? So is anyone who must testify as a witness.
national and state laws dictate the use of interpreters
in the judicial setting for persons with limited English
proficiency (LEP). For example, a person qualifies
for an interpreter if they speak only, or primarily,
a language other than English so as to cause at least
one of these three problems: inhibition of the party's
comprehension of the proceedings, inhibition of the
party's communication with counsel or the judge, or,
in the case of a witness, inhibition of the witness'
comprehension of questions and presentation of testimony
(28 U.S.C. 1827 (d)(1)).
how can you navigate the rigorous terrain of the linguistic
judicial jungle? Global Language Solutions (GLS) offers
the following suggestions and useful resources for
using interpreters in a legal setting:
Proper preparation. Just as you prepare
for depositions, trials and other legal proceedings,
so should your interpreter. Before the proceedings
begin, conduct a presession with the interpreter,
providing case information, a summary of expected
testimony, and a copy of any relevant documents
which the interpreter will be expected to translate.
The pre-session is also an opportunity for both
parties to understand the interpreter’s role in
the proceedings, uncover any possible barriers related
to translating the subject matter, confirm familiarity
with the specific cultures or dialects, and address
any ethical concerns.
Guessing should be avoided. Court interpreters
who do not hear or understand what a speaker has
said should seek clarification. If an expert witness
will be using specialized vocabulary, such as a
high-level medical testimony, notify the interpreter
in advance, because even skilled interpreters may
be deficient in technical terms. This helps the
interpreter refuse the assignment if he or she is
not qualified or find an interpreter with more experience
in the subject matter needed during that portion
of the proceedings. *NOTE: Interpreter errors should
be corrected for the record as soon as possible
Interpreters are not lawyers. Interpreters
should not be asked to explain legal concepts or
procedures or to fill out forms without an attorney
present. Legal explanations must be left to attorneys.
Excuse me? Can you repeat that? Make sure
the interpreter's English can be understood. Watch
out for thick accents that may impede communication.
The Court Interpreters Act, 28 U.S.C. 1827 mandates
dismissal of an interpreter who cannot communicate
effectively with the court and counsel.
All words and cultures are not created equal. Interpreters
also must be able to handle different dialects.
For instance, the Spanish spoken in Mexico is typically
quite different from the Spanish spoken in Puerto
Rico. Whenever possible, try to hire an interpreter
who is a native speaker of the particular dialect
or, at the very least, familiar with countryspecific
linguistic and cultural issues.
Code of ethics. The degree of trust that
is placed in court interpreters requires uniform
ethical standards that will both guide and protect
court interpreters in the course of their duties
as well as uphold the standards of the profession
as a whole. The National Association of Judiciary
Interpreters and Translators has a Code of Ethics
and Professional Responsibilities 2,
which is binding on all its members.
Industry expertise. Just as you would not
hire a divorce lawyer to manage your meeting with
the IRS, it is highly recommended you hire someone
with experience interpreting in a courtroom setting.
When trained and tested interpreters are not available,
judges may rely on someone in the courtroom, perhaps
a friend or family member, who speaks the defendant's
language. But without training, few bilingual speakers
can accurately and comprehensively interpret legal
language flowing at 150 words a minute.
State certification. There are 29 U.S.
states that are members of the Consortium for State
Court Interpreter Certification. States vary in
the method of interpreter certification program
implementation, such as Utah, which has legislatively
established programs with details of the program
governed by statute or by state rule. To find out
about the other 28 states involved in the interpreter
certification consortium, visit: http://www.ncsconline.org/.../Res_CtInte_HomePagePub.pdf.
It is common to encounter the misconception that if
an individual is bilingual he or she can interpret
and translate court documents. In reality, the demands
of courtroom interpreting are particularly complex,
requiring extensive knowledge of at least two languages
and rigorous training in interpretation. To find out
more about LEP mandates in a variety of settings or
for access to interpreters in your area, please contact
Global Language Solutions at 949-798-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and
Code of Professional Responsibility of the Official
Interpreters of the United States Courts
The Court Interpreters Act, 28 U.S.C. 1827 Interim
Regulations of the Director of the Administrative
Office of the United States Courts Implementing the
Court Interpreters Amendments Act of 1988
• Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 604
• Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 702
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