By Khalilah Sabra
RALEIGH (May 18, 2011) – Language barriers can prevent effective communication between individuals and the state, and it can also prevent justice. Providing this assistance in judicial settings is particularly important for victims, defendants, civil litigants, and witnesses and requires the services of well-trained and highly-skilled, professional interpreters and translators.
Every tier of fact whether they like to admit it or not, have viewpoints about what’s significant and why, as reflected by the facts they consider or ignore. A court of law should be the first to give all sides their best shot, to present everyone’s views as accurately and effectively as possible.
Language-minority communities have limited power and resources to argue for justice, hence the limited responsiveness of policymakers, but democracy insists that policy-makers rise to the challenge. Demographic and cultural change in communities demand that we move past traditional mechanisms and provide a framework for the provision of timely and reasonable language assistance to LEP persons who come in contact with the court in civil and criminal proceedings.
Muslim American Society, Immigrant Justice Center believes that the lack of foreign language interpreters violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by state courts and also prohibits those courts from administering programs that subject individuals to similar discrimination.
The lack of such provisions denies meaningful access to court services. Interpreters help to insure due process. MAS fully supports this initiative and has taken a number of steps to enhance services for LEP individuals.
When communication barriers prevent judges or jurors from understanding both parties, judicial discretion and fair negotiation may be impossible. Not only may it be difficult to obtain the witness’s informed testimony, but these barriers may also lead to improper judgments. Overcoming language barriers is critical to due process.
An advocate’s role is limited, even when an attorney is able to speak the client’s language. The attorney’s role is to support the client while the interpreter’s role is to remain as neutral as possible. When an advocate serves as an interpreter, a conflict of interest may occur that may ultimately be detrimental to one or both of the parties.
There are reports of family members being ask to translate in cases being litigated. Family members play a valid role in providing client support, however they are not appropriate interpreters.
In cases of family violence, using a family member for interpretation is not recommended as it may put the client at greater risk. Additionally, it is unfair to ask a family member to take on such a role when they may need to deal with their own feelings around a family member’s legal problem.
It is difficult for a family member to remain neutral and strictly interpret the party’s conversation. Family members are also likely to be unfamiliar with legal terminology.
Interpreters play a vital role that includes facilitating understanding in communication between people who are speaking different languages, dissolving the barriers that language differences create between people, and creating conditions similar to those that would exist by two people sharing a common language. The courts must be made to understand that the interpreter provides a necessary cultural framework for understanding the message being interpreted.
External forces such as the English-only movement, misguided occasional media coverage, resistance to civil-rights laws and legislators’ refusal to provide adequate funding continue to exert a powerful influence on what happens in the courtroom.
Amazingly, little attention has been devoted to such a principled cause despite its assault on a major principle that lawmakers claim to stand for: justice for all.