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Justice System Relies on Interpreters for Help

Maryland Judge Dismisses Abuse Charges: Clerk Was Unable To Find Interpreter
A criminal case in Maryland that was dismissed for lack of an interpreter has been widely covered in the news media.  This case is an unfortunate symbol of a systemic problem that affects our entire country: the need for language professionals to be identified and readily available to serve our courts and justice partners, particularly for rare languages.
The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators ( and the American Translators Association (ATA) have made great efforts to network with community and government entities to make them aware of the extensive network of language professionals, but as this case exemplifies, there is more room for interpreters to liaison with local courthouse staff about available services.
When a language barrier exists and a person's liberty or a victim's life is at stake, it is best to err on the side of caution by appointing a competent interpreter.  When state or federal authorities are unprepared, uninformed or unwilling to find a way to resolve a language barrier, the courts are poorly served, defendants' rights are unprotected, victims are doubly victimized, and the justice system suffers.
Information on how to tap into available language resources is vital to the effective functions of our court systems.  Any court or justice-related department that lacks policies for dealing with limited English proficient persons is poorly equipped to deal with the demographic realities of the 21st century.
ATA and NAJIT may not always be able to identify certified or qualified interpreters and translators in every language through membership directories, but can network with local sister organizations and other government entities, or exchange knowledge with community and private sector agencies to assist in locating needed interpreters or translators.
Where Are the Policies?
Interpreters need to connect better with governmental agencies, and national standards are needed. NAJIT encourages interpreters to lobby for funding for court interpreter programs such as Senator Kohl's bill, S. 702, to authorize the Attorney General to award grants to state courts to develop and implement state court interpreter programs.
Interpreters for rare languages are needed, and certification exams for rare languages are needed to ensure competency. This is an opportunity for those who specialize in atypical languages to fill the void in courthouses, and ensure cases don"t get dismissed due to lack of qualified interpreters.

By Chris Navarro
Get Interpreter Jobs, Contributing Editor

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