Camille T. Wiggins
The Indiana Court Interpreter Program is the result of an interim recommendation made to the Supreme Court by the Indiana Commission on Race and Gender Fairness. At the request of the Supreme Court, in 2000, the Indiana General Assembly funded the Indiana Supreme Court Commission on Race and Gender Fairness to investigate ways to improve race and gender fairness in the courts, legal system among legal service providers, state and local governments, and among public organizations.
As part of its research, the Commission conducted public hearings throughout Indiana during the summer of 2001. While citizens voiced numerous race and gender-related concerns at these hearings, the issue raised most frequently was the lack of a court interpreter system in Indiana. The Commission heard reports of fraudulent conduct by persons acting as interpreters, reliance upon friends and family members untrained in the law and not well educated in either language, in whose hands were entrusted the property and liberty interest of non-English speaking litigants who had to go to court. Of even greater concern were reports of police officers serving as interpreters in criminal court proceedings because of lack of funding for trained and qualified interpreters, despite their obvious conflict of interest.
The Commission’s research indicates that Indiana is ill-prepared to deal with persons who do not speak English or have limited understanding of English, whether these persons appear in court as victims of crime, witnesses, civil litigants, or criminal defendants. Indiana has no centralized court interpreter system, but interpreters frequently are needed in the state trial courts.
Census figures show ethnic populations in Indiana have increased dramatically in the last decade, with the most significant increase occurring in the Hispanic/Latino population. Census figures show Indiana’s Hispanic/Latino population grew from about 99,000 in 1990 to nearly 215,000 in 2000.
A survey conducted by the Indiana University Public Opinion Laboratory during the past year shows that about 90 percent of the responding courts had used foreign language translators in their courtrooms during the past six months. The survey also showed some of those judges used interpreters more than 100 times during that six-month period. Eighty-five percent of the interpreters used by those judges translated between Spanish and English. Most compelling was the survey finding that thirty percent of the courts that responded had been unable to find an interpreter when one was needed.
The Supreme Court Commission on Race and Gender Fairness is not the first to call for competent court interpreters. The Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs previously recommended to Governor Frank O’Bannon the creation of a centralized system of expert interpretation in courtrooms for Hispanic/Latino individuals with limited English-speaking abilities.
As this need became evident in the course of the Commission’s study, the Commission decided to make an interim recommendation to the Indiana Supreme Court to institute a statewide court interpreter system.
In response, the Supreme Court authorized the Executive Director of the Division of State Court Administration to join the National Center for State Courts’ Court Interpreter Certification Consortium and to implement an Indiana court interpreter testing system for Spanish. The Division is now a member of the Consortium. Camille Wiggins is the Division’s staff attorney that supervises the Indiana Interpreter Certification program. The Commission also has in place an Advisory Board which guides the program.
The Court also approved in principle the concept for a code of ethics for interpreters and the concept of setting specific certification standards for interpreters. The Court will look to the Advisory Board to assist the Court in developing these components.
In addition, the Court agreed with the Commission’s assessment that a strong need exists for training and orientation of interpreters, judges and court staff. As with many of the other Commission recommendations that have a fiscal impact, the Court decided to implement this recommendation to the extent that it could be accommodated by the existing judicial education structure.
Availability of competent interpreters is a fundamental factor in providing access to justice for all. The Indiana Supreme Court has taken a decisive step in assuring such access to non-English speaking people by approving the Commission’s recommendations.
|Indiana's Response to DOJ Regarding Court Interpreter Services|
As part of its investigating phase, the Commission on Race and Gender Fairness conducted public hearings throughout Indiana during the summer of 2001. While citizens voiced numerous race and gender-related concerns at these hearings, the issue raised most frequently was the lack of a court interpreter system in Indiana.
The Commission heard reports of fraudulent conduct by existing interpreters, trial courts’ frequent reliance upon litigants in recruiting their own interpreters, and trial courts’ routine use of litigant’s relatives and other individuals untrained in the law as interpreters. Of even greater concern were reports of police officers serving as interpreters in criminal court proceedings, despite their obvious conflict of interest.
The Commission submitted a report entitled “Interim Recommendation” (available on the Publications page) on June 21, 2002, to the Indiana Supreme Court in which it suggested that Indiana start certifying its court interpreters. The legislative and executive branches of Indiana government also received recommendations in 2002 from committees they each commissioned that Indiana should certify its court interpreters. The Indiana Supreme Court accepted most of the “Interim Recommendation” language, and gave the Commission approval to move forward.
The Commission on Race & Gender Fairness joined the National Center for State Courts - Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification in the Fall of 2002.
Audits of interpreted court proceedings in several states have revealed that untested and untrained "interpreters" often deliver inaccurate, incomplete information to both the person with limited English proficiency and the trier of fact. Poor interpreting constrains equal access to justice for persons with limited English proficiency involved in legal proceedings. Every state which has examined interpreted court proceedings has concluded that interpreter certification is the best method to protect the constitutional rights of court participants with limited English proficiency.
It was deemed beneficial to the court systems and persons with limited English proficiency residing in various states to pool resources for developing and administrating court interpreter test and training programs by creating the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification. The functions of the Consortium are to facilitate court interpretation test development and administration standards, to provide testing materials, to develop educational programs and standards, and to facilitate communication among the member states and entities, in order that individual member states and entities may have the necessary tools and guidance to implement certification programs.
The National Center for State Courts was charged with inviting other states and, subject to the approval of the Consortium, other entities to become members of the Consortium.
The Executive Director and staff of the Division of State Court Administration assist the Commission in the performance of its duties. The Indiana Supreme Court appointed an Advisory Board to analyze and offer suggestions about the certification project.
The Division of State Court Administration will house the interpreter certification project at:
Camille Wiggins, Staff Attorney
30 South Meridian Street, Suite 500
Indianapolis, Indiana, 46204-3466
The Division will also develop policies and implement training for judges, attorneys, and court managers. This will create an environment where everyone involved knows the role and function of an interpreter and the proper manner to conduct interpreted proceedings in the courtroom.