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How to Select the Right Legal Interpreter for Your Business

America's judicial system helps maintain law and order within local communities. The legal system needs all residents to participate for it to work well. Crime victims must come forward to identify dangerous assailants. Witnesses should provide testimony to help prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement to find facts. Defendants and litigants should be aware of their rights through every step of the legal process.

Unfortunately, some people cannot fully participate because of Limited English Proficiency.  LEP individuals are people who don't speak English as their primary language. These individuals may have a limited ability to speak, read, write, or understand English. They cannot communicate effectively with law enforcement. Some don't understand their rights under the law due to poor language comprehension.

Federal law requires judiciaries to provide language assistance programs related to services, benefits, and encounters. Criminal and civil cases can be overturned on appeal if a witness or defendant doesn't have access to language services.

Judicial systems must provide language services to ensure they provide meaningful access for all citizens. This post will help you understand how to select legal interpreters and translators for your court system, and why it's important.


The LEP Population in the United States

Nationwide, there are more than 25 million people with Limited English Proficiency in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there is a widespread need for language services. Their data shows that the LEP populations in metropolitan areas like Columbia, S.C. and Dallas, Texas grew by 200 percent. Other areas like Scranton, Penn. experienced a 12.5 percent increase.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducted an American Community Survey that tabulated languages that people speak at home. Previously, the study only found 39. It tracked more than 350 from 2009 to 2013.


Providing Meaningful Access for LEP People Within the Legal System  

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin. Federal laws have outlined the legal responsibilities courtrooms must uphold when serving Limited English Proficiency populations.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq) prohibits discrimination based on national origin.

President John F. Kennedy stated: "Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination]."

President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166 in 2000 called "Improving Access to Services for People with Limited English Proficiency." The order requires federally funded agencies to assess the services they offer. If so, they must provide meaningful access for them. Meaningful access means LEP persons can use the services and benefits comparable to those in the mainstream. They should achieve this goal by eliminating language barriers.

Organizations should use the four-step U.S. Department of Justice's Self-Assessment Tool to provide meaningful access for LEP people:

  • Demographics - Courts should conduct a demography assessment. The organization must learn how many LEP persons their community serves. They should also assess the most commonly spoken languages. Judicial systems will need more translation and interpretation services if they serve high numbers.
  • Determining the Frequency of Contact - Judicial systems should find out how often they serve LEP individuals. For example, judicial systems may need to provide language services if they frequently assist Spanish-speaking people.
  • Importance - Districts must examine the nature of their programs and activities. Court systems should offer language assistance for services that are important within the community.
  • Providing Resources - During this final step, judicial systems should identify funding and personnel resources to ensure LEP persons receive language services.


Why is Meaningful Access Important?

LEP persons must file complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice when a judiciary refuses to provide meaningful access. How can courts provide meaningful access to LEP persons? They should offer the following services:

  • Oral interpretations of court proceedings, and
  • Written translations of legal documents.

This access ensures judicial proceedings are fair for all involved.

LEP people face unfair burdens when they can't access translators or interpreters during the judicial process. Providing language services helps to preserve the justice system's integrity. Many court proceedings involve specialized terminology. Untranslated (or poorly translated) testimony puts attorneys and law enforcement at a disadvantage. They can't access information from LEP people that can allow them to find facts and dispense justice effectively.

The U.S. Department of Justice released a guidance document entitled, "Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - National Origin Discrimination Against Persons With Limited English Proficiency." The publication provides compliance standards for organizations that receive federal funding to ensure they don't violate Title VI's prohibition against discrimination based on national origin. For a full list of Title VI regulations, visit the United States Department of Justice's site.


Areas Where Language Services Can Help LEP Persons in Courtroom Cases

Legal translators and interpreters can help provide meaningful access in the following situations.  

1. Court Services and Programs - The legal system involves more than just hearings, trials, and proceedings. There are a variety of services that courts provide including clerk offices, self-help centers, signs, websites, and other services. Additionally, there are court-appointed professionals (like counsel, mediators, psychologists) that need to interact with LEP people.

The U.S. Justice Department says that it's essential for courts to provide LEP persons with a skilled translator. Appropriate language assistance services and clear procedures will help LEP persons. It will allow them to participate in state court proceedings as witnesses and parties. An LEP person may be unable to communicate with attorneys or individual in the clerk's offices. They may lack the ability to obtain or complete forms or participate in a mediation process.

The National Center for State Courts says that:

  • Two-thirds of community-based service and treatment providers received LEP individuals that judges ordered to serve in court-ordered programs. They turned 41 percent away due to language barriers.  
  • Courts who don't have appropriate language services ask LEP persons to stay in court lobbies. These individuals must wait until an individual who speaks their language arrives. Some judges ask LEP people to have an English-speaking friend or family member serve as their interpreter or translator.

2. Criminal Court Proceedings - A qualified interpreter can help an LEP criminal defendant effectively participate in the courtroom process. Failure to provide defendants with translation services can affect a defendant's rights and liberty. When courts deny them services, it can result in overturned convictions or sentences. There are cases where the courts withdrew guilty pleas after LEP defendants said the unknowingly signed untranslated waivers.    

3. Civil Court Proceedings - These courts handle disputes that impact an individual's life and property rights. The U.S. DOJ investigated several cases where an absence of language assistance services significantly harmed litigants, defendants, and families. For example, LEP individuals who have difficulty understanding proceedings have faced eviction and lost custody of children. Most didn't understand what was taking place.  

4. Court Appearances - LEP people can appear as litigants, defendants, and witnesses in legal proceedings. People who don't receive language services can have a significant impact on cases, even those where they don't have direct involvement. Poorly translated testimony may place entire communities in danger. Here are two examples.

  • An LEP witness' testimony can affect civil court proceedings between two English speaking parties.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice cited a case involving an LEP rape survivor. She couldn't provide sufficient testimony due to language barriers. A judge asked counsel to rephrase the question instead of providing an interpreter. They continued with the proceedings. A jury acquitted her alleged attacker on all charges. Six months later, police arrested the defendant for sexually assaulting a teenage girl.


5. Courts Must Provide No-Cost Language Services - Legal systems should provide free language services for LEP persons. If not, they place a financial burden on people that need translators.

Those who pay for interpreters pay a higher price to participate in legal proceedings than English speakers. Additionally, when courts charge for language services, it dissuades LEP individuals from participating in court proceedings. It also impairs the ability of judges, jurors, and others from communicating with the LEP person. Offering a free LEP interpreter or translator protects the fairness of the process.


6. Legal Translators Can Help with ERISA Translations - The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 covers retirement plans and welfare benefits. These laws protect employees and their beneficiaries. ERISA requires managers to abide by specific standards of conduct. The statutes also ensure companies protect retirement plans and participants receive benefits if businesses go bankrupt.

The U.S. Department of Labor created new standards for processing disability claims and appeals for insurance providers and plans in 2018. In Section 503, the government implemented the ERISA Translation Requirements for Compliance. These laws require companies to provide LEP people with high-quality translations.

The new minimum requirements affect disability claims submitted on or after January 1, 2018. Companies must provide benefit notices in a non-English language if the claimant lives in a county where only 10 percent of the population is literate in the same non-English language.


How to Select an Interpreter for Legal Settings  

LEP persons must have a skilled interpreter that can communicate their story. Providing accurate statements enables law enforcement and courts to gather facts in cases.

Government agencies have strict rules regarding translated documents. Every legal interpreter should meet your jurisdiction's requirements for presenting translations of legal documents. Language Network can expedite the screening process for a skilled translator or interpreter.

  • Find out whether your courtroom or law office needs a translator or interpreter. Translators are persons who work with the written word. They can handle briefs, contracts, disclaimers, prenuptial agreements, summonses, litigation documents, evidentiary transcripts, and correspondences. Interpreters work with the spoken word. They can assist with courtroom testimony, depositions, business meetings, recorded statements, independent medical exams, insurance investigations, and other under-oath examinations.  
  • Your interpreters should keep your client's privacy. Always have each professional sign a nondisclosure agreement. Find a translator or interpreter who has a law background and an understanding of legal and ethical duties.  
  • Find out if your interpreter can handle a rush job. A court may need an expedited translation completed. Find out how this affects their charges.  
  • Can your interpreter or translator handle smaller jobs? Learn the minimum amount each translator will handle. Your practice may only need a few paragraphs translated, but the translation may be critical to the outcome of your case.  
  • Does your interpreter review others' work? If you're not confident about the translations you've done or received, hire an expert to provide an edited version.  
  • Do they keep the formatted documents they've translated?    
  • How much it will cost? Do they handle translations by the word or by the hour?      


Categories of Courtroom Interpreters

The U.S. District Courts use the Court Interpreters Act, 28 U.S.C. §1827 to assess the qualifications of persons that serve as qualified interpreters in judicial proceedings in the United States. They can translate or interpret for the hearing impaired and people who speak languages other than English. There are three categories of interpreters.

Certified Interpreters - These professionals have passed the Administrative Office certification examination. To date, the justice department has developed three programs in Spanish, Navajo, and Haitian Creole. The U.S. Courts designate these interpreters as professionally qualified and language skilled.

Professionally Qualified Interpreter - This category applies to every language except those which the Administrative Office has certified interpreter examinations. The employee must have credentials, documentation, and authentication that meets the criteria in one of the following categories.

  • The professional passed the U.S. Department of State conference or seminar interpreter test in a language pair that includes English and the target. The U.S. Department of State's Escort Interpreter Examination doesn't satisfy these requirements.
  • The person can pass the United Nations' Interpreter Test in a language pair that includes English and the target language.
  • The interpreter/translator belongs to the Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (AIIC) or The American Association of Language Specialists (TAALS). The language pair of membership qualification must be English and the target language.
  • Sign language interpreters must possess a Specialist Certificate (SC:L) of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

Skilled/Ad Hoc Interpreters - These are interpreters who don't qualify as professionally qualified. They demonstrate to the satisfaction of courts the ability to interpret court proceedings from English to the designated language and vice versa. The U.S. Courts pay certified and professionally qualified interpreters at higher rates than language-skilled ones.


About Language Network

Language Network can help you locate the right interpreter for your business. Our company vets each professional interpreter to ensure they can provide accurate translations for your courtroom needs. Language access is our mission. Contact us to request a free quote from us today.


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