Protima Pandey, a staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, always makes sure an interpreter is available for her clients, but many civil court litigants aren’t so lucky. That is because California currently only guarantees access to an interpreter in criminal cases; civil cases are excluded from this benefit. For litigants with limited English proficiency, this policy makes navigating challenging proceedings such as divorce hearings nearly impossible. However, this is about to change.
Following pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice, California’s Judicial Council this year approved a plan to extend free interpretation services to all cases by 2017. Implementing the initiative will not be easy due to factors including the size of California’s court system, limited funding, and the sheer number of languages spoken. (The state has about seven million residents with limited English proficiency who speak over 200 languages.) Yet the challenge is welcome by legal advocates throughout the state who note that litigants in divorce, child custody, eviction, and other civil cases who have difficulty with English are going into court without qualified interpreters and finding themselves forced to rely on friends or family members — or worse yet, the opposing party — for translation.
Organizations mentioned/involved: Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal)