Navigational bar with photo of a totem pole Home Appellate case management system, appellate forms, oral argument calendars, slip opinions Court directory, forms, employment bulletins, frequently asked questions, law library, transcribers Court Forms Trial Court Case Databases Court Rules Court calendars, family law self-help center,  juror information, public outreach, therapeutic courts, trial court opinions Statutes, administrative code, court rules, jury instructions, municipal codes, supreme court orders
Court System Home » Language Interpreter Services » Information for Attorneys About Language Interpreters in the Courtroom

Information for Attorneys About Language Interpreters in the Courtroom

The Alaska Court System uses interpreters when a party or witness has limited proficiency in English and is unable to understand, speak or use English well enough to effectively participate in court proceedings. Interpreters help such persons receive equal access to justice and help court proceedings function efficiently and effectively.

Background Information

What court rule covers providing interpreters in the courtroom?

Alaska Court System Administrative Rule 6 (effective July, 1, 2013) Adobe Acrobat PDF logo addresses interpreter services in court proceedings.  The rule explains when the court provides interpreter services in the courtroom for persons of limited English proficiency (LEP). In general, Rule 6 endeavors to ensure that everyone who needs an interpreter in court will be able to obtain necessary and competent services.  

Under Administrative Rule 6, the Alaska Court System will provide an interpreter during court proceedings for:

If a party is represented by a public agency (PD, OPA or OPA contract attorney, AG, DA,), the agency will provide and pay for the interpreter services.

A party represented by a private attorney is responsible for obtaining an interpreter if the party can afford one.

Whoever is responsible for providing interpreter services for a party in court proceedings is also responsible for interpreter services for that party’s witnesses.

If a party or an agency responsible for providing a qualified interpreter appears without one, the court may provide an interpreter at court system expense to avoid delaying proceedings. The court may order the responsible party or agency to reimburse the court for the costs of the interpreter.

Return to Background Information FAQs | Return to top

Why should I use a trained court interpreter?

Because a person is bilingual does not mean that they have had adequate training to interpret in a legal setting.  Legal interpretation is a specialized field requiring specific knowledge, training, and experience.  Courtroom interpreters must have skills to interpret accurately, faithfully, exactly, and impartially.   In court proceedings, important constitutional issues may be at stake such as a person’s liberty, or the custody of children. 

Using the most qualified interpreter reduces the likelihood that an interpreter may make a substantive error that affects matters central to the case and harms a party. An untrained interpreter’s actions, choice of words, lack of skill, lack of specialized terminology or unfamiliarity with the professional responsibilities of an interpreter may adversely affect the outcome of court proceedings, the integrity of the record, and the confidence of those involved in the court hearing. 

For more information on interpreter issues on appeal, read Interpreter Issues on Appeal by Virginia Benmaman.

Return to Background Information FAQs | Return to top

What is the difference between interpreter and a translator?

An "interpreter" is someone who orally conveys the meaning from one language to another when the speakers speak different languages.  A "translator" is someone who converts in writing the meaning of written text from one language to another. In other words, "interpreter" is for spoken language whereas "translator" is for written language. 

Return to Background Information FAQs | Return to top

What are important tips for an attorney working with an interpreter?

Speak clearly and at a normal rate and volume, directly addressing the LEP person.  It is helpful to speak in plain language and avoid idioms which are challenging to interpret because there may not be analogous meanings in another language.  Plan extra time for hearings and trial when using an interpreter.  

View the Northwest Justice Project:  Tips for Attorneys Working With Interpreters Play Tips for Attorneys Working With Interpreters Video

See Representing non-English Speaking Clients: 10 Points Attorneys Should Know by Mary Lou Aranguren.

See An Attorney's Primer: Working With Interpreters by Isabel Picado, NAJIT. 

Return to Background Information FAQs | Return to top

LEP in the Courtroom

Who is a person of limited English proficiency (LEP)?

Persons of limited English proficiency (LEP) are those whose ability to read, write, speak, or understand English is limited.

Return to LEP in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

How do I know my client needs an interpreter?

Many individuals have enough English proficiency to communicate on a very basic level, but effective participation in court proceedings requires a much higher level of communicative ability.  

Clients must be able to evaluate and respond to witness testimony and assist in their own defense; they must understand the details and the subtle nuances of both questions and answers spoken in English.  In non-evidentiary proceedings that involve child custody, advising rights, sentencing, or obligations and responsibilities established in a court order, LEP persons must be able to understand and communicate their positions, ask and answer questions, and understand their responsibilities.    

Return to LEP in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What should I do when I think my client needs an interpreter?

Before you come to court, arrange for a trained interpreter.  A trained interpreter can be scheduled through the Language Interpreter Center (LIC), the Language Line (LL), or through another state court (see California Courts Interpreter Search, Washington Courts Interpreter Search, Oregon Certified Court Interpreter Roster, Wisconsin Courts Interpreter Search.) 

If you are an attorney provided by ALSC, ANDVSA, ANJC, or Alaska Pro Bono Program, notify the clerk of court immediately about the need for an interpreter and the court system will arrange for the interpreter at court proceedings.

If you are a private attorney representing a client, the client is responsible for arranging and paying for the interpreter services during court proceedings if the client can afford it. If you think that your client cannot afford to pay for those services, and your judge agrees, the court will provide the interpreter services during court proceedings.  If this is an issue in your case, raise it as soon as possible. Any motion should provide enough information for the judge to assess your client’s resources as well as the likely extent of court proceedings.  Whether a client can afford the costs of interpreter services may depend upon whether interpreter services would be needed for a brief hearing or a lengthy trial. 

Keep in mind that under Administrative Rule 6 Adobe Acrobat PDF logo , whoever is responsible for providing interpreter services for a party is also responsible for providing interpreter services for that party’s witnesses. 

Return to LEP in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

The Interpreter in the Courtroom

Are there different levels of interpreters?

Yes. There are registered and certified court interpreters. Each level involves different training requirements.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What is a registered court interpreter?

A registered court interpreter is someone who has successfully completed the interpreter training series through the Language Interpreter Center (LIC). The LIC maintains a list of registered court interpreters who can provide interpreter services in court proceedings.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What is a certified court interpreter?

Certified court interpreters are individuals who have mastered speaking both English and a second language.  A certified interpreter has achieved the highest level of training and has successfully passed the National Center for State Courts' written and oral exams or the Federal Court’s oral exam.

Certified court interpreters are able to perform the three major types of court interpreting (sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting).

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

Can I use a family member, friend, or untrained bilingual person to interpret?

The court should generally not use friends or family members to interpret.  Such individuals should only be used in unforeseen, emergency circumstances while awaiting a certified or trained interpreter.  First, it is highly unlikely that the friend or relative has adequate qualifications to perform court interpreting.  Second, it may be difficult for a friend or relative to interpret, especially in the legal context where a person may need to reveal intimate medical, social, and financial information.  Third, it is very difficult for a friend or family member to remain unbiased when interpreting for someone with whom they have a close relationship. Furthermore, the untrained interpreter may embellish testimony based on a desire to "help" the non-English speaker, making it difficult to provide an unbiased or impartial interpretation. 

All persons interpreting in the courtroom should be as highly qualified as possible.  When the court is asked to use an interpreter whose skills are unknown, you should establish on the record that the proposed interpreter:

The judge will decide whether to accept the proposed interpreter as qualified.  If the judge is not satisfied with the interpreter’s qualifications, the judge may appoint a more qualified interpreter at your client’s expense, in accordance with Administrative Rule 6 Adobe Acrobat PDF logo. Read Suggestions for Working Effectively With Non-Professional Interpreters Adobe Acrobat PDF logo.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

Can a minor child be used as an interpreter?

A minor child should never be used as an interpreter.  Even in the simplest legal proceedings, minors do not have the vocabulary necessary to interpret accurately.  In addition, court proceedings are often filled with emotions and complicated interpersonal relations that a minor is unable to process.  The child should not be put in that difficult position regardless of ability or maturity. It is especially harmful and troubling when a child is asked to interpret for a parent in domestic relations hearings.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

How does the court determine if an interpreter is qualified?

The judge will conduct a voir dire of the interpreter to decide whether the interpreter is qualified.  If the judge is not satisfied with the interpreter’s qualifications, the judge may appoint a more qualified interpreter at your client’s expense in accordance with Administrative Rule 6 Adobe Acrobat PDF logo.  Read Suggestions for Working Effectively With Non-Professional Interpreters Adobe Acrobat PDF logo.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What are the modes of interpreting used by a trained interpreter?

The mode of interpreting to be used at any given time – whether consecutive or simultaneous -- depends on the types of communication to be interpreted within a proceeding, not on the types of proceedings.  In fact, both simultaneous and consecutive modes will often be appropriate within a proceeding. 

The following describes the modes and typical situations for their use:

Simultaneous Mode

Simultaneous interpreting is the rendering of one spoken language into another when running renditions are needed at the same time as the English language communication. The interpreter speaks virtually at the same time as the LEP person.

The simultaneous mode of interpreting is used for an LEP person who is listening only.  A court-certified interpreter will interpret in the simultaneous mode in situations such as the following:

Interpreting in the simultaneous mode is a difficult skill and not all trained interpreters are able to interpret in this mode.  In general, a court-certified interpreter will be able to interpret in the simultaneous mode when it is appropriate to do so. (There are relatively few simultaneous interpreters in Alaska.)

Consecutive Mode

In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter waits until the speaker has finished before rendering speech into another language. Consecutive interpreting is spoken in brief sound bites successively, without omissions or embellishments, so that the parties can understand each other slowly and deliberately.

The consecutive mode of interpreting is used when a non-English speaking person needs to be active in responding to questions.  The interpreter will use the consecutive mode when the LEP person is giving testimony or when the judge or an officer of the court is communicating directly with such a person and is expecting responses (e.g., taking a plea).  The consecutive mode is the normal mode for witness interpreting.

The interpreter needs a microphone any time an LEP witness or party is testifying or answering questions for the record.

Sight Translation

Sight translation is a hybrid of interpreting/translating whereby the interpreter reads a document written in one language while translating it orally into another language.  It is sometimes called sight interpreting.  In this mode of interpreting a written text must be rendered orally, on sight, without advance notice.

Sight translation is used when LEP defendants are given forms in court that are written in English, such as rights forms, plea forms, and probation orders. It is also used when non-English documents such as birth certificates or personal letters are presented in court.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What can I expect from a trained interpreter?

Some people mistakenly believe that an interpreter renders court proceedings word for word, but this is impossible since there is not a one-to-one correspondence between words or concepts in different languages. For example, sometimes one word in English requires more than one word in another language to get the same idea across, and vice versa. Rather than "word for word", interpreters render meaning by reproducing the full content of the ideas being expressed.

A trained and qualified interpreter, whether present in the courtroom or on the telephone, will enable court proceedings to progress in an efficient manner, without undue delay. There are a variety of actions or behaviors that will be apparent in a trained and qualified interpreter:

The interpreter will adhere to the Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters Adobe Acrobat PDF logo

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What are "red flags" I should watch for when I work with an interpreter?

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What happens if an interpreter doesn't know how to interpret a word or phrase?

The answer depends on where this occurs. Knowledge of ethics and technique come into play when an interpreter is confronted with an unknown word or expression.

While simultaneously interpreting court proceedings, an interpreter may have to interrupt the speakers in order to request a repetition or clarification.

There are several other ways of making corrections or compensating for gaps, depending on the situation. In general, an interpreter uses finely tuned analytic and cognitive skills to derive meaning from context. Electronic or other dictionary resources may quickly be consulted, or colleagues may be consulted, or further clarification may be requested of the original speaker.

A trained interpreter will not hesitate to request clarification immediately if a witness uses an unfamiliar expression.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What do I do when I think the interpreter has made an error?

Professional interpreters are trained to understand and act on their ethical obligation to correct any errors that they make during a proceeding.

When an interpreter discovers his or her own error, the interpreter should correct the error at once, first identifying him/herself in the third person for the record (e.g., "Your honor, the interpreter requests permission to correct an error").  If the interpreter becomes aware of an error after the testimony has been completed, he or she should request a bench or side bar conference with the court and the lawyers to explain the problem.  The court can then decide whether  a correction on the record is required.

When the judge, an attorney, or another officer of the court besides the interpreter suspects an error, that person should bring the matter to the attention of the judge at the earliest convenient opportunity.  If testimony is still being taken, the problem should be raised before the witness is released. 

In the case of a jury trial, notify the judge without disclosing the issue to the jury.  The judge will likely handle the interpretation error issue at a side bar conference.  

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

How many interpreters do I need?

Research shows that interpreter fatigue occurs after 30 minutes of continuous interpreting.  For longer hearings or trials, you should arrange for two interpreters.  Having two interpreters allows for adequate breaks, minimizes the fatigue factor and allows interpreters to help each other with unfamiliar terms or if an interpreting error occurs. Finally, team interpreting allows for continuous interpreting so the proceeding progresses at a reasonable rate.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

What if the interpreter I arrange for my client is asked by the judge to interpret for others in the courtroom?

Unforeseen situations may arise in the courtroom where an interpreter is needed to interpret for more than one LEP person.  There is no ethical problem with the interpreter interpreting for different people in the same proceeding because the interpreter is neutral and unbiased in performing their duties.  This situation may arise in languages where few trained interpreters are available.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

Where will the interpreter be positioned in the courtroom?

Trained interpreters know where to position themselves in the courtroom. An untrained interpreter may need help.

The location for interpreters depends on whom they will be interpreting for. The interpreter needs a microphone any time an LEP witness or party is testifying or answering questions for the record. The interpretation will be in consecutive mode, meaning the interpreter waits until the speaker has finished before interpreting.

If a witness needs an interpreter, the interpreter must be able to see and hear the witness, the judge, and any person examining the witness.

If a party needs an interpreter to understand the proceedings, the interpreter sits next to the party.  The interpretation may be in simultaneous mode, meaning it occurs virtually at the same time that someone else is speaking.  Simultaneous interpretation for a party is usually not recorded as part of the official court record.

If the party has an attorney, the interpreter sits between them so they can communicate with each other during the proceedings.  The interpreted conversations between a party and attorney are not recorded.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

Should I provide the interpreter with a copy of exhibits?

The interpreter should have a copy of the exhibits that are admitted. The attorney introducing the exhibit should provide the interpreter with a copy of any exhibit that the interpreter needs to sight translate.

Return to the Interpreter in the Courtroom FAQs | Return to top

Translators

What does a translator do?

A legal translator prepares written translations of documents related to criminal and/or civil matters, such as medical or psychological evaluations; forensic reports (drug analyses, DNA reports or medical reports); divorce decrees; foreign judgments; extradition documents; statutes and contracts, or other relevant documents. The translation may be from the non-English language into English or from English into the non-English language.  Translation is an area of legal interpretation that requires additional training and expertise. 

Translated documents may also be introduced into evidence or used for other legal purposes.  A true and accurate translation must be produced at all times.  When working with foreign language documents from different legal systems, a translator must find accurate equivalents in English for legal terms, at the same time taking care not to mislead the reader to assume that the underlying legal concepts are identical in the two legal systems, when in fact they may not be. 

Return to the Translators FAQs | Return to top

Where can I find a trained translator?

The Language Interpreter Center has trained translators in several languages.  Contact them for more information.

Return to the Translators FAQs | Return to top

Resources for Attorneys

Return to top


Rev. 18 September 2014
© Alaska Court System

www.courts.alaska.gov
webmaster@akcourts.us

Adobe Acrobat PDF logo You'll need to download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to view and print documents with this symbol. If you are using a screen reader, get support and information at the Adobe Access website.