Posted by: sbilingual | April 25, 2012

Why a Professional Legal Interpreter Is a Must in the Courtroom

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of professional interpreters in legal situations.

Interpreters serve a fundamental role in providing access to justice for those with limited English proficiency and for the hearing-impaired. What’s more, using an unqualified interpreter can lead to severe consequences.

Qualifications of Legal Interpreters

Although the law is vague as to precise qualifications for interpreters in legal settings, a defendant has the right to an interpreter who is competent and able to render accurate interpretations.

In any case, a professional legal interpreter has not only language fluency, but also knowledge of legal terminology and protocol. Colloquial, obscene, crude, slang, cultured and scholarly language must all be conveyed in accordance with the speaker’s usage.

A legal interpreter must be able to understand the terms used in court proceedings, explain those terms in English and the other language, and be disinterested in the legal proceeding.

Legal Interpreting Guidelines Differ by State

In many states, legal interpreters must meet certain requirements. In fact, jurisdictions within states may even have their own rules.

Some jurisdictions require certified interpreters. Certified interpreters, however, are not always best. Certified interpreters generally cost more, and experience with specialized legal vocabulary may be a better indicator of a truly professional legal interpreter anyway. In other jurisdictions, court interpreters may be able to prove their qualifications through proof of educational training or life experience.

US states run the gamut with their legal interpreting regulations.

Washington state, for example, has heavily regulated legal interpreting requirements. There are three levels of interpreters: non-credentialed interpreters, registered interpreters and certified interpreters. Certified interpreters, the highest level of formal accreditation in Washington, must pass both written and oral interpreting exams, attend mandatory classes, pass a criminal background check and take an oath.

Vermont, on the other hand, has lightly regulated legal interpreting requirements. Vermont does not require certified interpreters for any legal proceeding.

Code of Conduct for Legal Interpreters

Many jurisdictions require court interpreters to abide by an official code of conductthat reflects the requisite skills for an interpreter, as well as guidelines for how they are expected to act, dress and communicate in court.

In general, interpreters are required to accurately interpret, maintain an impartial attitude at all times while in court, and interpret only if they are proficient in legal language and procedures.

Professional Interpreters Are a Must

Simply hiring an interpreter for a legal proceeding isn’t enough. Unqualified interpreters can lead to confusion, mistakes and mistrials.

Do what you can to avoid this from the start. A language services provider like Legal Language Services will provide you with legal interpreters who have the appropriate experience and language fluency. Please contact Legal Language to find a professional legal interpreter who meets the rules and regulations in your jurisdiction.

To find out how Bilingual Resources Group can support your interpretation, translation and bilingual staffing needs, please call 504-253-0364 or visit


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