Massachusetts has statutory and regulatory standards for language access. Massachusetts General Law, chapter 221C mandates that Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals have a right to the assistance of a qualified interpreter in court proceedings. This law addresses not only the right to an interpreter but also the quality of the interpretation, and recognizes the direct correlation between accurate interpretation and a fair legal process for non-English speaking defendants or victims. The purpose of the law was to “provide the broadest possible protection for the rights of non-English speaking persons to understand and to be understood.” The Standards and Procedures of the Office of Court Interpreter Services provides guidelines to facilitate meaningful access to LEP individuals in the Trial Court. As a result of these standards, OCIS provides interpreters to all criminal and civil cases from the start of proceedings, to all non-party LEP individuals whose presence or participation in a court matter is necessary (i.e., victims, witnesses, parents or guardians of juveniles) and without cost to the persons involved.
Interpreters for court proceeding and related matters can be requested through the courts. Each court has assigned Court Liaisons to facilitate linguistic access. As the sole public accrediting authority for spoken language court interpreters in the Commonwealth, OCIS maintains a list of interpreters to facilitate access to the courts for Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals. In addition, OCIS provides general access to interpreter services by making this list public so it can be used by attorneys and other legal or law-related entities that seek assistance in obtaining qualified interpreters. Interpreters for non-court proceedings can be accessed through this online list of interpreters.
Standards of Practice for Court Interpreters Ensure Equal Access to Non-English Speakers
The important role of court interpreters in our court system is outlined in Section 4.01 of the Code of Conduct:
A court interpreter is the communication facilitator for the parties involved in a proceeding, and, as such, plays a vital role in the protection of the rights of LEP [Limited English Speaking] and DHH [Deaf and Hard of Hearing] individuals engaged as parties or witnesses in legal proceedings in the Trial Court. This role requires an understanding by the court interpreter of the complexities of the tasks to be performed. In these tasks, court interpreters should be guided by the ethical principles and standards promulgated pursuant to G.L. c. 221C and c. 221, § 92A.”
Professionally-trained court interpreters who understand and act according to the standards of practice are better suited to achieve the following goals, also outlined in Section 4.01 of the Code:
- Ensure meaningful access to court proceedings for LEP and DHH individuals.
- Protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants to the assistance of a court interpreter during court proceedings.
- Ensure due process in all phases of litigation for LEP and DHH individuals.
- Ensure equal protection of the law for LEP and DHH individuals.
- Increase efficiency, quality, and uniformity in handling proceedings that involve court interpreters.
- Encourage the broadest use of professional court interpreters by all those in need of such services within the Trial Court.
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|Last updated:||April 25, 2018|