When a civil complaint is filed in court, a person is arrested, or a petition for child custody is presented, the legal process begins. When any of the parties involved speaks limited or no English, the danger exists for unfair treatment and infringement upon an individual’s due process rights.
During the legal process, a person has the right to know what is occurring and how the case is proceeding. If an individual has limited English proficiency (LEP), caution is advised in communicating legal matters through an interpreter or bilingual person. Why is that?
Some people erroneously believe that certified court interpreters are only required in court. They believe that other interpreters can practice at attorney-client meetings, client preparation appointments, depositions, and mediations. Nevertheless, such belief is unfounded. No one would argue that lawyers are only needed at court, and that paralegals and assistants can conduct meetings, depositions, and mediations. In fact, without certified court interpreters and properly trained bilingual assistants and attorneys, the credibility of the party may be impeached. How could that occur?
Legal language is very precise. Although it is high register, it means exactly what is said. It helps to avoid ambiguity. During a criminal matter, terms such as indictment, true bill, felony, misdemeanor, with prejudice, and prayer for judgment continued have a specific meaning that are little understood by general lay people. For civil matters, terms like examination under oath, deposition, interrogatories are equally challenging. In family, divorce, and protection matters, the public is unfamiliar with terms like legal custody, physical custody, guardian ad litem, termination of parental rights, CASA (no it’s not house in Spanish), or permanency planning hearings.
Every country has its own code of laws and judicial systems. Well-intentioned bilingual individuals and perhaps even bilingual attorneys have made (and some continue to make) dreadful errors in translation. These errors can wreak havoc upon the outcome of a case. If the LEP party hears this legal terminology for the first time in court through the certified court interpreter, it can derail the party’s thought pattern and influence the appearance of the party’s credibility. Is saving money on interpreter services worth losing your case? Therefore, it is incumbent upon those communicating with an LEP party to ensure that the correct register and terminology is used. When you contract practicing certified court interpreters, you significantly decrease or eliminate misunderstandings and greatly increase your possibility of success with accurate court interpretation