New law strengthens access to court language interpreters; training scheduled for Aug. 3-4 in Jackson
July 10, 2023
The 2023 Mississippi Legislature revised laws requiring language interpreters for people of limited English proficiency in court proceedings to provide broader access to assistance for people who don’t understand English.
The new law, which went into effect July 1, mandates court appointment of a qualified interpreter in criminal cases at no cost to the defendant, with the cost borne by the county or municipality. Changes in the criminal statute are in Miss. Code Ann. Section 99-17-7.
New legislation also requires court interpreters to be paid by the county or municipality in civil cases, so limited English proficient individuals will no longer have to pay for a court interpreter. In the past there has been confusion as to when LEP individuals are entitled to use a court interpreter. Revisions to the statutes clarified that LEP individuals are entitled to use an interpreter in any instance arising out of or pertaining to the individual’s involvement in litigation. See Miss. Code Ann. Section 9-21-73 (4).
This provision ensures that LEP individuals have a right to an interpreter during all phases of litigation, including hearings and depositions. This provision applies not only to litigants, but also to witnesses, said Deenie Miller, director of language access for the Administrative Office of Courts.
“The new law ensures that limited English proficient individuals receive assistance from qualified court interpreters from the beginning of a case until the end of a trial, no matter what their involvement is regarding the litigation. This includes a plaintiff filing a lawsuit in the Clerk’s Office, a defendant appearing in court responding to a summons, or a witness testifying at a trial. The cost of the interpreter can no longer be assessed to the LEP individual,” Miller said.
The Administrative Office of Courts is seeking bilingual speakers willing to train to become credentialed court interpreters. An Ethics and Skill Building Seminar will be held Aug. 3-4 at the Gartin Justice Building, 450 High Street in Jackson. The seminar registration deadline is July 24. Advance registration is required. The $125 registration fee includes the seminar and a box lunch both days. The registration form is at this link: https://courts.ms.gov/aoc/courtinterpreter/forms/Ethics and Skill Building Registration Form.pdf.
Participation in the Ethics and Skill Building Seminar is the first step in the Mississippi Court Interpreter Credentialing Program which trains, tests and certifies individuals who wish to serve as court interpreters. The seminar will introduce the candidates to requirements for foreign language interpreting in court settings. The seminar will cover the role of the court foreign language interpreter, ethical requirements, modes of interpretation and credentialing requirements.
Candidates to become court interpreters must already be fluent in English and a second language and must develop an understanding of legal terms and court proceedings.
The AOC developed the Mississippi Court Interpreter Credentialing Program to assist state courts in providing equal access to justice for people of limited English proficiency. AOC provides all state courts with a roster of credentialed foreign language interpreters.
The AOC requested legislative changes earlier this year to make sure that people of limited English proficiency receive all of the protections required by federal law.
The legislation expanded the definition of who is a person of limited English proficiency, or LEP, beyond the former definition of simply a party or witness who cannot readily understand or communicate in spoken English. New language in the statute adds “or who does not speak English as his or her primary language” and “has a limited ability to read, speak, write or understand English.”
Miller said, “There have been differing opinions as to who has the right to a court interpreter. Now it is clear that appointing a court interpreter is proper for individuals who may speak some English but are not fluent. The new definition further strengthens access to justice to our LEP population.”
The Legislature this year revised definitions of the previously established three categories of court interpreters: certified, registered and non-credentialed. The legislation also adopted an order of preference, with certified interpreters first, then registered, then non-credentialed. “This will ensure that every LEP individual has the right to the most qualified interpreter available,” Miller said. “We want to encourage anyone who meets the qualifications for pursuing our Court Interpreter Program to attend the seminar so we can expand our court interpreter roster. We often are forced to utilize court interpreters from other states because we do not have enough interpreters to meet the demand. As more people learn about the new legislation, the demand will continue to increase.”
House Bill 1217 was introduced by House Judiciary A and Judiciary En Banc Chair Angela Cockerham of Magnolia, Judiciary A Vice-Chair Rep. Thomas U. Reynolds of Charleston and Rep. Otis Anthony of Indianola. Gov. Tate Reeves approved the legislation on March 13.
The Legislature also appropriated $150,000 to the AOC’s language access budget. The funds will help efforts to make LEP individuals aware of their right to an interpreter. Miller said, “One of our first big projects will be providing signs in clerk’s offices and courtrooms translated into multiple languages so that people who are limited English proficient know they are entitled to an interpreter.”
The Director of Language Access assists the courts in meeting the needs of people with limited English proficiency. The Director is charged with educating judges, court staff and attorneys about the requirements for providing court interpreters for people of limited English proficiency to conform with federal and state laws and regulations. The Director is also in charge of recruiting foreign language interpreters.
For more information, contact Deenie Miller at 601-359-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.