The New York Times reported this weekend on The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school’s new study out that documents the need for more interpreter services in state civil courts. Of the 35 states with the highest immigrant populations that were examined:
- 46% do not require that interpreters be provided in all cases;
- 37% do not require that interpreters have proper credentials; and
- 80% fail to guarantee that the courts will pay for an interpreter.
Federal law requires civil and criminal courts that receive federal funding to provide free interpreters for individuals with limited proficiency in English, but many states do not require interpreter services in all civil cases.
Civil cases can involve denial of constitutional property rights, termination of parental rights, statutory rights to be free from harassment and stalking, consumer transactions, foreclosures and a host of other matters,” Wisconsin Judge Richard S. Brown said. “If a person cannot understand what is happening in the courtroom proceeding, an unfair result might occur. And that is contradictory to what we want our courts to do: administer justice, fairly and impartially.
There is an ever growing demand for appropriate and efficient interpreter services in state civil courts. Language access is a necessity and when non-English speakers are not able to participate in court proceedings, grave consequences can occur. In New York alone, the 2008-09 fiscal year logged 282,000 hours of interpretation in nearly 90 languages. Rising costs for interpreter services continue to be a challenge, but states must recognize that it is a basic right for anyone involved in the court system.
The Brennan Center report calls for an end to the disparity in services from state to state and reiterates the need for equal access to the justice system for all. Though progress is slow and many times uneven, some states are working to make sure that adequate interpreter services are provided in their courts.
By Norma Haro, Research Intern