Getting a Foreign Language Interpreter in Court

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If English is not your main language and you can't fully participate in court proceedings in English, you can ask for an interpreter. 

An interpreter translates from English into your language so that you can understand what the other participants say. They translate from your language into English so that you can speak to the other participants. 

This article has information about foreign language interpreters. If you need an interpreter for American Sign Language or for other disability access issues, go to the Getting a Disability Accommodation to Go to Court resource page.

Who Can Get a Court Interpreter?

The following people can ask for an interpreter:

  • Parties. Parties to the case are the people directly involved in the case. The person who started the case (the plaintiff or petitioner) and the person responding to the case (the defendant or respondent) are parties.
  • Witnesses. Witnesses are people who come to hearings or other court proceedings to answer questions about issues related to the court case.
  • People with a “substantial interest” in the court case. The court rules do not say what a substantial interest in the case means. When you ask for an interpreter, explain how the case will impact you.

You can ask for an interpreter yourself or someone else can tell the court you need an interpreter. 

The judge may decide you need an interpreter even if you don't ask for one. 

If the judge decides you need an interpreter, but you do not want one, the judge will give you information and ask questions to make sure you understand your rights. They also want to make sure it is your decision and not a decision someone else is forcing you to make. The judge might use an interpreter in this part of the case so that they can be sure you understand your rights. 

How Do You Ask for an Interpreter?

If you have a court date, you can ask for an interpreter before it happens. Fill out a Request for Interpreter form and file it with the court.

You can use the Do-It-Yourself Request for Interpreter tool to create the form. Get it to the court as early as possible so the court can consider it and find an interpreter before your court date. If you need an interpreter to understand what is happening in your court case, you can ask for one even if you have not had time to fill out a form before the court date. It is best to ask for an interpreter as early as possible but you can ask for an interpreter at any time during the case.

There are bilingual versions of the form in: 

If you use one of these forms, you still need to fill out the form in English.

Who Will Be the Interpreter?

The State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) has a list of registered interpreters. These interpreters meet a set of requirements to be court interpreters. The judge must choose an interpreter from SCAO’s list if possible.

The judge can choose someone else if no interpreters are available from SCAO’s list. The judge will ask the interpreter questions to make sure they speak both English and the other language well enough to interpret in court.

Conflicts of Interest for Interpreters

The judge will try not to choose an interpreter with a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest means the interpreter has a personal interest in the case.

An interpreter could have a conflict of interest if they are:

  • A friend or family member of a party in the case
  • A witness
  • An employee of one of the parties
  • A person who could make or lose money based on the outcome of the case

The judge can choose an interpreter with a conflict of interest. If the judge chooses an interpreter with a conflict of interest, the judge must give reasons for naming an interpreter with a conflict of interest.

Does the Court Charge Money for Interpreters?

Some courts charge for interpreters in some situations. The judge can never charge money for interpreting to someone who is not a party to the case. 

The judge can order a party to pay for their interpreter if the party can afford to pay. Some courts do not ever charge parties for interpreters. Courts can charge for an interpreter if all the following are true:

  • You are a party (the plaintiff, defendant, petitioner, or respondent)
  • Your income is above 125% of the federal poverty level 
  • You can afford to pay an interpreter without affecting your ability to participate in the case

What If the Judge Denies a Request for Interpreter or Charges Money to Someone Who Can’t Afford to Pay?

A judge should name an interpreter for anyone who needs an interpreter to participate in the case and understand it. If it is a close case and the judge is not sure if someone needs an interpreter, the judge should name an interpreter. 

If a judge denies a request for an interpreter, they will send you a written Order. This is usually on the same form you used to ask for an interpreter. The bottom half of this form has a section titled “Order Regarding Appointment of Interpreter.” The judge will fill out this section and include the reasons they said no to an interpreter.

If a judge denies your request for an interpreter or charges fees you can’t afford, you can ask a different judge to reconsider. You have 56 days from the day the judge signs the order to ask for a different judge to review it. The Do-It-Yourself Request for Interpreter tool can help you fill out a form to ask a different judge to review your request.

There are bilingual versions of the form in: 

If you use one of these forms, you still need to fill out the form in English.