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Language Access
Interpreters in Pennsylvania Courts

"No one should be put at a disadvantage in court by reason of race, ethnicity, or gender."
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 2003

It is a basic right to be able to understand what is happening in court. The fairness of Pennsylvania courts depends on everyone being able to know what is going on in court, whether a person is the victim, the accused, or a witness. It is unfair to a person who cannot speak or understand English, because they have not learned it (commonly referred to as people with limited English proficiency-LEP), or because they are deaf or hard of hearing, unless the court has ways to provide interpreters for them.

Sometimes courts have used family and friends of the victim or abuser to interpret during legal proceedings. Volunteer interpreters can be a poor choice for many reasons. Family members or friends can have feelings in favor of or against the victim or abuser. Even when volunteer interpreters understand and speak English better than the parties, they can misunderstand important legal terms.

Interpreters who are not certified may insert advice or extra language into their translation. Certified interpreters must keep conversations that they translate between a victim and domestic violence advocate confidential, meaning that they can't testify about it in court. A volunteer interpreter does not have to, which can compromise a victim's legal rights.

Pennsylvania Laws About Interpreters

Pennsylvania law makes sure that courts are fairer for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who do not speak English well. The Court Interpreter Act says that the court can appoint certified interpreters for LEP or deaf parties, witnesses and certain others for court proceedings. Such interpreters are certified in the language and, most importantly, their understanding of legal terms. Certified interpreters also agree to other ethics rules, such as translating word-for-word rather than summarizing what someone says.

Pennsylvania's Interpreter Statute and Regulations list when and how courts should use interpreters for arrests, trials, hearings, and other reasons. They describe how courts can to find qualified and certified interpreters.

Administrative Offices of Pennsylvania Courts - Court Interpreter Program

Bilingual Court Forms

Bilingual Protection From Abuse documents translated into the eleven most commonly encountered languages in the Pennsylvania court system

Bilingual Criminal Protective Order documents are translated into five languages for Pennsylvania courts: Chinese, Khmer, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese

Judicial Benchcard for Court Interpretation in Protection Order Hearings informs the court about what to expect from an interpreter and how the court can assist communication in interpreter proceedings

Language Flashcards

The I Speak Card is free and available from the U.S. Census Bureau. The card assists a non-English speaking person to identify their native language. The card states "Mark this box if you read or speak [each different language]," in 37 languages including Urdu, Spanish, Korean, Ukrainian, Hmong, Hindi and Arabic. 

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