April 28, 2020
While many courts are only hearing emergency matters and are operating under reduced capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts are still serving people with limited English and utilizing interpreters. To minimize risk to staff and contract interpreters and the courts and people they serve, the AOIC offers the following guidance on the appropriateness and feasibility of using remote interpreters.
Should courts continue to use interpreters in-person?
Given the current public health crisis, courts are encouraged to utilize interpreters remotely over phone or video when feasible and appropriate. There can be limitations to remote interpreting depending on the equipment available to the court (discussed in more detail below) and the interpreter, and of course, there are some cases that may not be appropriate for remote interpretation, and that is up to the judge’s discretion. If possible, courts should hear interpreter cases first so that interpreters can provide services in other courtrooms or areas of the courthouse and efficiently complete their work.
What is the safest way to use an in-person interpreter with an in-person litigant?
The simultaneous mode of interpretation requires parties to be physically proximate, which is currently not advised. Interpreters providing services in person should be given simultaneous interpreting equipment, if available in the courthouse, to maintain distance between interpreters and litigants. Equipment should be disinfected before and after use. If equipment is not available in your courthouse, contact Sophia Akbar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If simultaneous interpreting equipment is not available, courts should allow interpreters to use the consecutive mode of interpretation so that interpreters and litigants can maintain a minimum distance of six feet between one another.
When is it appropriate to use remote interpreters?
Evaluating whether a proceeding is appropriate for remote interpretation is up to the judge’s discretion, and requires balancing a number of factors such as case type, expected duration of the event, language availability in area, cost, and special needs of the limited English proficient person. Remote interpreting should only be used in place of in-person interpreting if the court can ensure meaningful language access. For a thorough discussion of these factors, see page 7 of the National Center for State Courts Remote Interpreting Guide.
What does a court need to conduct remote interpretation?
To conduct remote interpretation over the phone, at a minimum, the court would need to have a speakerphone available in the courtroom. If the court has sufficient internet bandwidth for video conferencing, then computers, webcams, and speakers can be used to facilitate video remote interpreting. For either scenario, the court would need to ensure compatibility with the courtroom’s digital recording system, or allow for an alternative recording capability, such as through Zoom. This is to ensure that the interpreter’s rendition of the litigant’s statements are captured on the record.
When using a remote interpreter over the phone, the proceeding must be done in the consecutive mode allowing for pauses after each statement. Certain video conferencing platforms have the capability to allow for simultaneous interpreting, such as Zoom Business or Enterprise accounts.
Where can courts find an interpreter willing to provide services remotely?
An AOIC survey conducted this month shows that only 18% of interpreters on the AOIC Court Interpreter Registry (Registry) are currently providing remote interpreting to Illinois courts, yet 65% are willing to provide remote services and have the necessary equipment to do so. The Registry indicates whether an interpreter is available for remote interpreting over phone or video (see the last column).
There are also interpreter agencies that have certified interpreters who are trained to provide services remotely. If interested in learning more, you can contact Sophia Akbar at email@example.com.
The NCSC National Database of State Court Interpreters is another resource for finding certified interpreters willing to provide services remotely.
What are the costs?
The hourly rates for using certified interpreters remotely typically remain the same as in-person services; however, the court may receive cost savings by not having to pay travel costs or hourly minimum fees of two hours or longer.
Can courts seek AOIC reimbursement for using certified interpreters remotely?
Yes. As a reminder, if any court uses an interpreter on the AOIC Registry or National Database (or any other interpreter who has completed the same requirements in another state), the court can seek reimbursement from the AOIC for the cost of services, including travel costs. This includes whether the interpreter was used remotely or in-person.
What specific oral instruction can a judge offer when using an interpreter for a remote hearing over phone or video?
A judge can instruct all participants:
We have multiple participants on this line, including an interpreter for the litigant(s) (pause). To allow the interpreter to do their job in the consecutive mode, all speakers must pause after each statement (pause). Be prepared to be interrupted by the court interpreter or what you say will not be accurately communicated to the litigant (pause). If you are not speaking, mute yourself so we don’t pick up background noise or unwanted audio feedback. Take a moment to locate your mute button now.
Can courts just use Language Line?
The AOIC strongly discourages the use of Language Line for court proceedings as their interpreters are not screened for court experience or knowledge of legal terms. Language Line is more appropriate for out-of-court communications, such as communications with the clerk’s office. If a court has limited resources and cannot hire approved interpreters, and Language Line is used as a last resort, courts can ask to be connected with an interpreter that has court experience, and one may or may not be available.