Court Interpreters and Their Importance for Alpha Omega Translations

March 31, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

searchIt can be extremely stressful and difficult to deal with having to appear in court or some other legal situation. If you are lucky enough to have the money for it, you can hire your own lawyer, but not everyone has such luck. Many people end up depending on a public defender, an attorney appointed by the state or some other organization to represent them. This is, of course, not ideal, but at least it ensures everyone gets legal representation.

People with limited or no English have yet another hurdle to overcome: the quest to find a court interpreter. In states where there is a high percentage of non-English speakers, like New York and California, there are usually court interpreters for the most common foreign languages spoken, like Arabic, Spanish, Polish, and Cantonese. However, these are not useful at all if a defendant speaks something other than those languages.

More and more cases have come to light where the defendant spoke some language that was not spoken by any of the available interpreters. This has happened, or is likely to happen, with speakers of Mandarin, Tibetan, Gujarati, and many other languages. In Los Angeles county, for example, around 220 different languages are spoken. How can the justice system possibly be working with enough interpreters to handle that amount of foreign language? The answer is simply that it isn’t.

Many speakers of languages with enough court interpreters available aren’t even aware that they have the right to ask for an interpreter. There is usually some sort of office in each courthouse that is specifically for helping non-native English speakers get the help that they need. The problem is, many times the people who need this help have no idea this office even exists, much less how to get to it. The issue of whether or not there are adequate signs in the right target languages leading to these offices has come up often.

Some people, including those who work in the legal sector, would argue that a defendant, if their assigned court interpreter can’t make a court date, should simply ask a friend or family member to interpret for them. This is problematic for many reasons. First of all, the friend or family member might have to miss work, school, or find someone to take care of their children while they act as interpreter. Another obvious problem is that legal language can be very different from everyday language, and a friend or family member may not be able to understand or translate everything in a clear or accurate manner.

Even if a friend or family member is available and has a perfect understanding of legal jargon in both languages, there is the issue of confidentiality. What is the defendant being accused of? What is the plaintiff accusing the defendant of? It could be very possible that the person needing an interpreter does not want some of their friends or family members to know why they are in court, or certain details of the case. There may be no great solution for this huge issue now, but we can at least work towards getting more laws passed that would provide everyone with the help they need.

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Category: Business Translation

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