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How to Request a Foreign Language Interpreter


    If English is not your main language and you can’t understand or speak English, you may be a person with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). You can ask for an interpreter to help you handle your business with the court.

    Who can get a court interpreter?

    You might qualify for a court interpreter if:

    • You are an LEP person;

    • You are either a witness, a party or a person with a significant interest in a court case; and

    • The court decides you need the interpreter to fully participate in the court activity.

    You can request an interpreter or have someone request one for you. Even if you don’t request an interpreter, the judge can decide on its own that it may help you to have an interpreter.

    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 you legal advice.

    When can I get language help outside the courtroom?

    As an LEP person, 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, 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 mail or deliver it to the court. The Request is available in:

    You can use our Do-It-Yourself Request for Interpreter to create a completed form in English or our Entrevista automatizada en línea de formularios de Solicitud de intérprete to create a form in Spanish. Or, you can download a blank Request for Interpreter form and fill it out by hand. 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.

    Go to the court clerk’s office

    You can also ask the court clerk in person for an interpreter. If possible, do this before your scheduled court activity so the court has time to find an interpreter in your language. The court should have “I Speak” cards available. Point to your language on the card. If the court doesn’t have the Request for Interpreter form in your language, someone can help you complete the English form.

    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 court 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 court will ask the person questions to decide if they can reasonably do the job of communicating between you and the court.

    The court 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 court 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 can use the Do-It-Yourself Request for Interpreter to do this. Or you can download a blank Review of Request for Interpreter and Order form and fill it out by hand. 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 court may decide to appoint a different interpreter. If this happens, you can still have the interpreter you hire, but the court 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.