At the past year’s ATJ public hearings, I learned how pervasive the language-barrier can be in a courtroom.
South Carolina law mandates foreign-language interpreters in court proceedings. Spanish and American Sign Language interpreters were two of the most needed within the South Carolina court system. Court interpreter certification, compensation and procedural mechanisms for obtaining a court interpreter are several of the issues that have been raised in working towards the goal of creating easy access to much-needed court interpreters.
Another issue that arises in the context of court interpreters is when a party to a proceeding does not speak English, it is useful to have multiple interpreters in the courtroom to ensure a fair proceeding.
The state of California also mandates foreign-language interpreters in courtroom proceedings.
California’s court interpreter assignment operation has over 100 languages represented by its interpreters. The court has less stringent standards for more unusual languages, but this article I found in the L.A. Times illustrates the great lengths some CA courts have gone to in order to provide the appropriate interpreter to a litigant.
The article also does an excellent job of highlighting many problems faced by litigants who are not provided with the appropriate interpreter in courtroom proceedings. Not only are these litigants unable to articulate answers to questions and fully present their side of the story, but judges and attorneys can become impatient when litigants have problems answering simple questions, and court transcripts are usually only in English, so the potential for a miscarriage of justice because of a simple translation error increases.
Nonetheless, no case in CA has been thrown out because an interpreter was unable to be found.
While it is unlikely that a litigant in a South Carolina courtroom will need a Quetzaltepec Mixe interpreter anytime soon, SCATJ, in conjunction with court administration and other players have taken the need for courtroom interpreters seriously and have been working diligently to resolve many issues surrounding the provision of court interpreters.