April 25, 2018
Dear Justice Corner:
My court is in a rural area but we have had a few requests for languages other than Spanish that I cannot recognize. One time a litigant brought their family member who spoke English, and they told me the litigant speaks Burmese. There are no Burmese interpreters in the area and only one on the AOIC Registry located in Chicago, which is far away from my court. How should I handle this request and other rare language requests?
Dear Judge Idontunderstand:
Thank you for your inquiry, you are certainly not alone in confronting language access challenges in your courtroom. The Illinois Supreme Court Language Access Policy states that the "fair administration of justice requires that our state's courts be language accessible to all people, including those who are limited English proficient (LEP) or are deaf or hard of hearing." The Policy requires courts to make reasonable efforts to provide a certified, qualified, or registered interpreter listed on the AOIC Interpreter Registry for LEP parties and witnesses at the court's expense for criminal, civil and court-annexed proceedings. If such an interpreter is not reasonably available, or upon good cause shown, the court can use an unregistered interpreter as long as they examine their qualifications in open court. Illinois statute also requires courts to provide interpreters in criminal (725 ILCS 140/2) and civil (735 ILCS 5-8/1402) proceedings.
There are a number of tools at your disposal to be in compliance with the law:
- The I Speak Card is a tool developed by the U.S Census to assist with identifying a person's language if they speak one of the top 38 languages in the country. Here is the link to the card: https://www.lep.gov/ISpeakCards2004.pdf. After identifying the person's language, you will know what type of interpreter to request.
- The translated continuance language developed by the AOIC can help you communicate that an interpreter is not available in their language right now, but that one will be provided at no cost to them on a certain date and time, which you would fill out in the spaces provided. This is available in the top 26 languages in Illinois, and includes Burmese.
- Language Line is a telephonic interpreting service that employs on-demand interpreters in over 200 languages, including Burmese. The AOIC has negotiated a reasonable rate for all Illinois courts: $0.98 per minute for all languages, and you only pay for what you use. Language Line is ideal for communicating with a litigant at the clerk's office or for other simple communications, such as telling them they will need to come back to court at a future date when an interpreter is available. Due to difficulties with using telephonic interpreters and their lack of legal training, we advise that they only be used for court hearings as an absolute last resort, and even then, only for non-evidentiary hearings with no witness testimony.
- The AOIC Interpreter Registry lists certified, qualified and registered interpreters in 34 languages. The AOIC will reimburse the full costs of certified and qualified interpreter services, including travel costs. For registered interpreters, the AOIC reimburses at a rate of $30/hour. Even though there is only one registered Burmese interpreter on the Registry and they are far away from your court, the costs of using this interpreter, including their travel costs, will be reimbursed to you at a rate of $30/hour. Reimbursement also extends to using interpreters in other states that have met the same requirements (all states use the same interpreter exams). For example, if you were to use a qualified Burmese interpreter in another state, your full costs would be reimbursed. Please note that you can also use many interpreters on the Registry using a phone or video conferencing, and the costs would still be reimbursed.
- The AOIC Language Access Services Specialist, Sophia Akbar, is always available to assist courts in finding interpreters for languages that have no representation on the AOIC Registry, or if the interpreters listed are not available. Sophia can be reached at 312-793-2013 or email@example.com. For example, if the registered Burmese interpreter was not available, Sophia can assist with finding a qualified interpreter in a neighboring state or an unregistered interpreter within the state that has been used by another court in Illinois.
- A benchcard on courtroom interpreting summarizes all of the information presented here, in addition to sample language for determining if someone is LEP, language for assessing the qualifications of unregistered interpreters, sample oaths, and tips for working with interpreters. The benchcard also lists scenarios that present conflicts of interest, which includes using friends or family members as interpreters. Laminated copies of the benchcard are available upon request.
If you have questions or would like access to any of these resources, please contact Sophia Akbar, Language Access Services Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, please email your questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants to email@example.com.
-Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Court Guidance and Training Committee
- Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan, McHenry County
- Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
- Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
- Chief Judge Kevin P. Fitzgerald, McLean County
- Judge Johannah B. Weber, Jefferson County
- David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
- Joseph Dailing, Legal Aid Consultant, Rockford