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Delaware Docket Newsletter
Spring 2012


On February 10, 2012, Maria Pérez-Chambers, Program Coordinator of the Administrative Office of the Courts' Court Interpreter Program (CIP), provided members of the Delaware Bar with an informative overview of Delaware's Judiciary Language Access Plan and Practices for Attorneys Working with Foreign Language Interpreters. The free CLE presentation, sponsored by the Public Defender's Office, was held at the Carvel Building in New Castle County with live video connections to Kent and Sussex Counties.

Ms. Pérez-Chambers provided attendees with an overview of the genesis of the CIP, which began in 1997, a description of the Judiciary's Language Access Plan (LAP), Delaware's most frequent language needs, CIP's practices and services, and best practice tips for attorneys communicating through interpreters.

Maria Pérez-Chambers, Court Interpreter Program Coordinator, presenting on court interpretation to members of the Delaware Bar.

Language Access Plan (LAP) and Delaware's Court Interpreter Program (CIP)

The Language Access Plan contains the Delaware Judiciary's policy on current and prospective programs to serve limited English proficient (LEP) speakers, consistent with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Delaware's language needs are currently tracked through records of requested services maintained by CIP's Program Coordinator and current population census. 2010 United States Census data revealed that Delaware's Hispanic or Latino population makes up 8.2% of Delaware's total population. AOC records, which track court requests for court interpreter services, confirmed that Spanish services were the most frequently requested language services. In fiscal year 2011, a total of 2,374 court events required 6,189 foreign language interpreter hours and provided language assistance to an estimated 8,939 LEP litigants. Of these 8,939 LEP litigants, 89% were Spanish speakers. Haitian Creole, the second most frequently requested language, follows as a distant second with a total of 211 litigants. Spanish is, by far, the predominant language of LEP individuals accessing the Delaware courts.

The CIP maintains a registry of qualified interpreters who have completed a rigorous qualification process, and works to ensure that courts have access to interpreters as needed. Although in-person interpretation is the preferred method of interpretation, telephonic interpreter services are available for limited non-evidentiary proceedings and infrequently requested languages. The CIP is exploring the possibility of video conferencing for accessing court interpreter services.

Best Practices and a Competent Interpreter

An interpreter serves as the linguistic conduit between speakers, whose only role is as a communication facilitator between the parties and the court. A competent interpreter will not translate the conversation "word for word" but will convey the meaning of the language in the speaker's language level, style, tone, and intent. Persons communicating with a LEP person should speak directly to that person as though the interpreter was not present in the room.

An interpreter is bound by professional rules of conduct and standards of practice which impose ethical and confidentiality obligations. An interpreter's first responsibility is to the LEP individual for whom the interpretation services are being provided. The interpreter must interpret everything that is said to comply with their ethical obligations. To ensure the quality of their interpretation, interpreters will prepare, in advance, by reviewing the facts of the matter; will explain the ethical rules governing interpretation to all parties present; will minimize opportunities for private conversation with just one party present; will allow the full question to be phrased before interpreting so as to provide a clearer interpretation; will ask for permission to clarify, repeat, or correct a term if a previous interpretation was in error; and will use the first person singular for the LEP individual to avoid confusion on the record. All of those involved in the court process, including the interpreter and the attorney, should remind the LEP individual that an interpreter cannot provide any legal advice; that the interpreter will not interject or offer a personal opinion; and that the interpreter will translate everything that is said.

At the CLE presentation, Ms. Pérez-Chambers provided "DOs & DON'Ts" for attorneys using interpreters to follow, such as:

  • DO provide the interpreter with any information that could affect the interpreter's ability to effectively translate the LEP individual's testimony, such as a speech defect, mental health needs, emotional distress issues, or educational level.
  • DO share with the interpreter prior to the proceedings basic facts and information that will arise in the proceedings.
  • DO allow the interpreters to seat or position themselves where they wish during the proceedings so that they can see and have eye contact with all participants.
  • DO use the interpreter for a LEP individual whenever it appears that they have a limited ability to understand or communicate in English.
  • DO speak directly to the LEP individual.
  • DON'T ask the interpreter to repeat or rephrase a question, ask or rephrase the question yourself.
  • DON'T engage in a private conversation with the interpreter or leave them in a situation which could lead to a private conversation with one party.
  • DON'T ask a relative, friend, minor, or bilingual staff member to provide interpretative services.

The CLE concluded with an open question and answer session. Some of the topics discussed were the availability of interpreters for conflict counsel and pro se litigants, who is responsible for securing interpreting services, which services are supplied by the CIP, and which services can be contracted out to CIP certified interpreters on a private basis.

Through its training and other program initiatives, the AOC's Court Interpreter Program promotes the Courts' goal of ensuring overall fairness in the court system through providing competent interpreter and other language access services to those who are limited English proficient.