White paper on court interpretation

White paper on court interpretation: fundamental to access to justice

Conference of State Court Administrators

Adopted November 2007


The United States is a country founded on the process of immigration. One of the great strengths of our country is its acceptance of immigrants. Many of our citizens’ ancestors traveled here without the ability to communicate in English. One of the fundamental rights we have recognized, and an important reason why immigrants continue to come, is our country’s belief in equal justice for all. But, to have equal justice, every litigant, every victim, every witness must understand what is happening in the courtroom. For individuals to be afforded equal justice, and for courts to achieve their mission of providing equal justice accessible to all, court systems must develop viable systems to provide competent interpretation
services to limited and nonEnglish speakers. Our promise of justice for all must be supported by a commitment to provide all individuals accessing our court systems with a means for true communication and understanding, and not through a mere babble of unintelligible voices.

The extent of the need for language interpretation services in courts is staggering.The steadily increasing population of nonEnglishspeaking individuals in the United States presents many challenges, including the states’ abilities to provide adequate resources to address these needs. In 1990, there were 6.7 million persons age 5 and over residing in the U.S. who spoke English less than very well (2.9% of the population age 5 and over).3 By 2000, this figure had increased dramatically to 21.3 million persons (8.1% of the population age 5 and over)4, and by 2005, 23.2 million residents of the U.S. (8.65% of the population age 5 and over).5 This represents a 246% increase in the number of persons who have limited Englishspeaking abilities in the United States between  1990 and 2005. Similarly, in 1990 there were 19.8 million foreign born persons residing in the United States (7.9% of the total U.S. population)6, while by 2000, there were 30.7 million foreign born persons (11.2% of the total U.S. population), and by 2005 there were 35.8 million foreign born individuals (12.7% of the total U.S. population). Although Spanish continues to be the nonEnglish language spoken most frequently at home in the United States, the need for court interpretation services extends to hundreds of languages. The 2000 Census identified approximately 380 single languages or language families in the United States.


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