By Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget M. McCormack
Michiganâ€™s court system needs qualified foreign language interpreters to make sure all people in Michigan have consistent, meaningful access to the courts. Justice requires that all parties have the ability not only to tell their side of the story, but to understand the opposing side. Interpreters make that happen.
The Michigan Supreme Courtâ€™s new rule requiring all courts to provide interpreters brings an urgency to the search for qualified interpreters. While the need for interpreters varies by jurisdiction, the inherent promise in the Supreme Courtâ€™s new rule is that everyone, no matter where their case is heard, will understand â€“ and be understood â€“ during the proceedings.
A court interpreter must be much more than simply bilingual. Interpreters must understand the specialized language of judges and attorneys, as well as the street slang of witnesses and the technical jargon of criminologists, police officers and expert witnesses. The interpreterâ€™s role is to render a complete and accurate translation without altering, omitting or adding anything to what is stated or written, and without explanation.
Interpreter candidates must pass a written English exam, scoring 80 percent or better to be eligible to take an oral proficiency exam. There is no cost to take the written English exam.
Candidates taking the oral proficiency exam must pay a fee, which reflects what it costs the State Court Administrative Office to rate the exams. Thereâ€™s a $200 fee for the Spanish oral proficiency exam and a $350 fee for the oral exam for other languages, which at this time include Arabic, Cantonese, French, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Ilocano, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
The written English exam will be offered March 25, 2014 and July 29, 2014.
The Spanish oral proficiency exam will be offered June 19 and 20, 2014 and Oct. 16 and 17, 2014.
The oral proficiency exam for languages other than Spanish will be Oct. 20 and 21, 2014.
Tests are given at the Michigan Hall of Justice, 925 W. Ottawa St., Lansing, Mich. 48915. Pre-registration is required and information is available by emailing email@example.com or calling 517-373-6670.
Individuals who pass both the written and oral test receive a certification card and their names are added to the certified interpreters list, which the State Court Administrative Office provides to all judges and court administrators in Michigan. While certification is not required, courts are encouraged to give preference to certified interpreters when available.
Members of the Michigan Supreme Court and its Limited English Proficiency Implementation Advisory Committee are eager to help local courts put the new rule into action. Together we can help ensure that the courts are working smarter for a better Michigan.
McCormack is chair of the Supreme Courtâ€™s Limited English Proficiency Implementation Advisory Committee, which is charged with helping local courts meet the requirement to provide interpreters in all courts.