How to Request a Foreign Language Interpreter

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If English is not your main language and you can't meaningfully participate in court proceedings in English, you can ask for an interpreter to help you understand what is happening at court. Some courts and other agencies use the term Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

Who Can Get a Court Interpreter?

You might qualify for a court interpreter if:

  • You need an interpreter to meaningfully participate in court AND

  • You are either a witness, a party, or a person with a substantial interest in a court case

You can request an interpreter yourself or the judge can decide that you need an interpreter and appoint one for you. If the judge decides you need an interpreter but you do not want one, the judge will need to give you information and ask questions to make sure that your decision is knowing and voluntary. In some circumstances a judge may require an interpreter even if the court participant does not want one.

What Does a Court Interpreter Do?

A court interpreter interprets out loud between English and another language. Court interpreters also translate court papers.

The court interpreter's job is to give a complete and correct interpretation or translation. He or she should not change, leave out, or add anything to what is said or written. It is not the interpreter's job to explain what is being said. It is not the interpreter's job to give legal advice.

When Can I Get Language Help Outside the Courtroom?

If you are a person with LEP, you might need language help for things that happen outside of the courtroom. For example, you might need language help:

  • During security screening at the courthouse entrance

  • While talking with someone at the court clerk’s office either in person or on the phone

  • During Friend of the Court intake, conciliation, interviews, or mediation

  • During probation intake, drug-alcohol screens, or on reporting days

Each Michigan court decides when translation services outside of the courtroom are available. Ask a court employee or the court’s Language Access Coordinator for assistance.

What Other Kinds of Language Help Can I Get?

Each Michigan court has its own language access resources. The type of help you get depends on your needs and the resources available. For example, a court might have:

  • “I speak” cards at the court clerk’s office. These cards let you show the court staff what language you speak;

  • Remote interpretation telephone services;

  • Court staff whom speak different languages;

  • Court forms and documents translated in different languages

How Do I Ask for an Interpreter?

File a Request for Interpreter Form

If you have a court hearing coming up, you can ask for an interpreter before it happens. Fill out a Request for Interpreter form and file it with the court. Each court decides how it will accept documents for filing. Contact your court to find out which methods are available. Depending on your court, you may be able to file by: 

  • In-person filing
  • E-mail
  • E-filing using MiFILE
  • Mailing or dropping off documents

You can find contact information for your court on the Courts & Agencies page of Michigan Legal Help.

MiFILE is only available for some courts. Even in courts where it is available, you can only use it for some case types. The State Court Administrative Office keeps a chart of courts that use e-filing. To learn more, read What Is E-Filing?.

The Request for Interpreter form is available in:

You can use our Do-It-Yourself Request for Interpreter to create a completed form in English or our Hágalo usted mismo: Solicitud de intérprete to create a form in Spanish. You should mail or deliver your Request for Interpreter form as early as possible so the court can consider it and appoint an interpreter before your court date.

Ask for an Interpreter During Your Hearing

You can ask for an interpreter in the courtroom during your hearing. But it will be easier for the court to find an interpreter who speaks to your language if you file your request ahead of time.

Who Will the Court Interpreter Be?

The judge will appoint either a certified or qualified court interpreter if one is available. These are people who have met certain requirements and are registered with the State Court Administrative Office.

If no certified or qualified interpreter is available, the court may appoint someone else to interpret. The judge will ask the person questions to decide if they can reasonably do the job of communicating between you and the court.

The judge will not appoint someone who could have a conflict of interest. Examples of someone who could have a conflict of interest are:

  • Friends or family members of someone involved in the case

  • Potential witnesses

  • Police officers

If you feel the interpreter has a conflict of interest, you should let the judge or other court staff know.

Will I Have to Pay for the Court Interpreter?

If you are not a party to a case, you will never have to pay for an interpreter.

If you are a party to a case, at the end of the case the judge may order you to help pay the costs of the interpreter if:

  • Your household income is more than 125% of the federal poverty level; AND

  • The court decides having you repay the interpreter costs won’t pose an unreasonable burden for you to have meaningful court access.

What If the Court Denies My Request for Interpreter?

You can file a Review of Request for Interpreter and Order to ask another judge to review your request. You have 56 days to file your request. You can use the Do-It-Yourself Request for Interpreter to do this. File your completed form with the court clerk.

Can I Hire My Own Interpreter for the Hearing or Trial?

Yes. If the interpreter you hire is not a “certified” interpreter, the judge, referee, or magistrate will ask questions to make sure the interpreter:

  • Can reasonably do the job of communicating between you and the court

  • Does not have any personal interest in the case (a conflict)

After these questions, the judge may decide to appoint a different interpreter. If this happens, you can still have the interpreter you hire, but the judge will hire a separate interpreter.

How Can I Learn More?

Each Michigan court has a Language Access Plan (LAP) with details about resources for people with limited English proficiency. You can find your court’s LAP on its website or at the clerk’s office.