Legal Interpreting Services – What’s the Verdict?

legal interpreting services
February 25, 2022

As our society has evolved and international collaboration has grown, the number of languages spoken has exploded. As a result, translation services and interpreting are vital in addressing language barriers in all aspects of legal proceedings.

Legal Interpretation Defined

The Minnesota Judicial Department defines legal interpreters in the following two ways:

1. Certified Interpreter

  • Attended a two-day orientation seminar
  • Scored at least an 80% on the written examination
  • Scored at least a 70% on a three-part oral exam
  • Passed a criminal background check
  • Abides by the Court Interpreter Code of Professional Ethics

2. Non-Certified Interpreter

  • Attended a two-day orientation seminar
  • Passed a criminal background check
  • Abides by the Court Interpreter Code of Professional Ethics

Why Legal Interpretation Is Important

In the criminal justice system, defendants and plaintiffs who don’t speak English face challenges in the courtroom. This language barrier prevents many people from understanding procedures or their rights under the law. It also makes them ill-equipped to cooperate with their attorneys.

Defendants must be able to provide key information and help understand ways to structure their defense. Plaintiffs need to understand the strength of their case and the risk/benefit analysis when considering a settlement. The language barrier impedes a basic criminal justice operation, causing issues for all parties involved.

Challenges with the language barrier do not stop in the courtroom.

The nuances of:

  • Business transactions
  • Insurance and real estate contracts
  • Employee benefits
  • Financial statements

Can literally get lost in translation!

Without a clear understanding of what the documents ask, people who do not speak English are at a massive disadvantage.

What Makes a Good Legal Interpreter?

Legal InterpreterA good interpreter can do more than just legal translations. They understand the nuance in a lawyer’s questions and provide clients with the most comprehensive translation. Without interpreters, those who cannot speak English would be denied the full protection of the law.

Legal interpreters are professional linguists, with relevant qualifications and most importantly, courtroom experience.

They need to be able to translate language, tone and context. It is also vital that they can translate the law, particularly in situations where legislation differs or terminology cannot be directly translated from one language to another.

In addition to these skills, a legal interpreter must be:

  • Extremely reliable
  • Impartial
  • Able to maintain strict confidentiality throughout the case

The Essentials of Legal Interpretation

legal translatorLegal interpretation has its own set of rules, terminology, difficulties, solutions and patterns. One should not assume legal or court interpreting is simply a matter of understanding two languages and legalese. There are many aspects of legal interpreting that are unexpected and problematic, and using non-qualified interpreters can be one of those problems!

Accuracy in court interpreting is not reached by linguistic fluency alone. What is also extremely important is a high level of knowledge of legal terminology in both working languages.

If an interpreter does not understand legal terminology and procedures, they will be unable to:

  • Pass along what is being asked
  • Translate legal assumptions to languages that are not in their native tongue
  • Communicate the requirements and consequences of the situations in their clients are involved in

At the same time, not only must a court interpreter be able to do all of this with speech, they also need to be able to translate legal documents and pieces of evidence, verbatim, by sight.

Legal Interpreting is Literally the Law!

In Minnesota, legal interpreting is federally mandated. Therefore, professional court interpreters must be used consistently and correctly. According to a recent American Community Survey, approximately 10.26% of the Minnesota population speaks a language other than English.

Lack of Proper Interpretation Qualifications Can Pose Challenges

legal interpretingMisunderstandings are surprisingly common in state and local courts. Many states and localities don’t use tested court interpreters and ignore federal rules for when interpreters are required. This prevents criminal defendants and civil litigants with limited English skills from properly navigating the complex legal system. Ultimately, it jeopardizes their constitutional rights.

The lack of skilled interpreters is less of a problem in federal courts, where interpreters must pass a competitive test. Most states certify court interpreters, requiring that they pass a test to demonstrate their language skills. However, state certification tests aren’t as rigorous as the federal ones, and many state and local courts allow uncertified interpreters to serve even if they haven’t passed the test. Many states also ignore the federal mandate that they provide free interpreters in both criminal and civil courts.

Unfortunately, states allow uncertified interpreters to serve for various reasons.

  • States may not have a certification test for languages of lesser diffusion
  • If they do, it’s possible that nobody has passed it
  • Judges are forced to rely on someone who isn’t certified or someone who is familiar with the language but doesn’t regularly interpret

INGCO Can Help with your Most Complex Legal Interpretation Needs

The role of the legal interpreter is difficult, demanding and complex. It requires talented, highly disciplined and well-trained professionals who display the utmost care and confidentiality. Our network of more than 3,500 specialized legal linguists makes us the prime choice for legal translation and interpreting. We have extensive experience working with Fortune 500 legal departments and the world’s largest law firms.

Contact us today to discuss your legal translation services needs.