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The fact that everyone in the United States does not speak English is far more recognized by the average citizen than ever before in this country’s history. Though multilingual situations have always existed in our court system, the way these situations are being handled is evolving. The need for skilled interpreters and court reporters who can perform in a multilingual environment is greater than ever.
Recognition of the growing issue of people with limited English proficiency (LEP) prompted the American Bar Association to produce the “ABA Standards for Language Access in Courts” in February 2012. The first standard states, “As a fundamental principle of law, fairness, and access to justice, and to promote the integrity and accuracy of judicial proceedings, courts should develop and implement an enforceable system of language access services, so that persons needing to access the court are able to do so in a language they understand, and are able to be understood by the court.” The criteria necessary to meet the standards addressed in this report would make the court system as accessible to a non-English-speaking person as it is to a native English-speaking person.
Certified Interpreters for Court Proceedings
Whether in a court proceeding or a deposition, an interpreter will generally go through a process of having his or her skills verified by the attorneys in the case. Though the defendant in a criminal case is usually the person considered to be the one benefitting from the presence of an interpreter, the prosecution also benefits, in that it is less likely an appeal for the case can be brought on the grounds that the defendant was unable to understand the proceedings because of a language barrier.
As a proceeding begins, attorneys may hold voir dire to test the qualifications of an interpreter. The court reporter takes down these proceedings just as they are taken down during the voir dire of a jury. Various questions are asked to the interpreter, such as the types of certifications he or she holds, whether he or she is related to or has a friendship with any of the attorneys or parties in the case, how he or she is being compensated, and how familiar he or she is with the pending case. If an attorney can elicit any answer that may show interest or bias on the part of the interpreter, he or she may be disqualified, just as in the case of a potential juror.
Generally, legal interpreters are certified by a state or federal court or other entity, such as the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT). Adhering to a similar code of ethics as those followed by a court reporter, an interpreter must be completely objective and translate the spoken words during a proceeding with total accuracy.
The Court Reporter’s Role in a Proceeding with an Interpreter
After being accepted by the attorneys in the case, legal interpreters are put under oath by either the clerk of court or the judge in a court proceeding, or by the court reporter in a deposition. The interpreter is sworn to accurately translate from English to a particular language and from a particular language back to English during the proceeding of the pending case. Also visit Court Reporters in the Courtroom for further details on what a stenographer's role is during a trial.
Many times two interpreters may be used during a proceeding. This practice is actually required in some jurisdictions. That being the case, there may be many objections raised by the attorneys throughout the proceedings. When that occurs, the court reporter is asked to read back the question of the attorney and the interpreter’s English answer. The judge will then ask the interpreter if what was read by the court reporter is the proper answer that was given by the witness. The judge may admonish the interpreter to be more accurate in his or her translation of the responses by the witness if it is determined that there should have been a more correct translation. All of this material is considered part of the trial record and must be taken down by the court reporter.
By going under oath, the interpreter swears or affirms that he or she will accurately translate what is said by the parties in a proceeding. Though the interpreter should never add his or her own explanations of material being translated, this does happen at times, and the court reporter is required to take down all that is said and include it in the record. The court reporter can only take down the statements of the interpreter in their entirety and must never convert translated material to the first person, even with an inexperienced interpreter.
In situations where a multilingual court reporter finds himself or herself realizing that the interpreter is not translating material correctly, it is generally held that the court reporter is not to interfere in the proceeding. To do this would violate the required impartiality of the court reporter. Certainly, though, any dutiful court reporter would discretely bring this type of information to the attention of his or her judge, and let the matter be handled as the Court deems necessary.
Multilingual Broadcast Captioning and Webcasting
A broadcast captioner or webcast captioner with multilingual skills is obviously a valuable asset to any captioning company. With every part of America facing a growing LEP population, the demand for media of all types to be translated to other languages is growing as well. According to the 2010 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, there are presently approximately 60 million people in the country who speak a language other than English in their homes. In an effort to accommodate the needs of these people, Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 79.1, includes language requiring that, as of January 1, 2010, programming distributors of new, nonexempt Spanish language video programming provide that media with closed captioning. Multilingual court reporters interested in becoming broadcast captioners or webcast captioners will have no shortage of employment opportunities.
Written by Suzanne Lee, CCR on 9/8/2012 Suzanne has been a court reporter and worked in legal communities for over 18 years.
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