Court Interpreting, Language Justice and Covid-19
Court Interpreting, like every occupation and industry, has had to evolve with the challenges presented by Covid-19. When public health mandates required a reduction of foot-traffic in public spaces, court interpreting moved largely online via technology allowing for remote interpreting services like VRI (Video Remote Interpreting) and OPI (Over the Phone Interpreting). Courts started using AI through virtual assistants, and multiple courts started using tech for jury operations. Court interpreters have heavily relied on courts enhancing tech infrastructure to meet the demands of a modern, and socially distanced society. Which begs the question: how has language justice been affected by Covid-19, and what role does technology play in court interpreting?
What is The Connection With Court Interpreting and Language Justice?
The American Bar Association defines language justice as:
"an evolving framework based on the notion of respecting every individual’s fundamental language rights—to be able to communicate, understand, and be understood in the language in which they prefer and feel most articulate and powerful. Rejecting the notion of the supremacy of one language, it recognizes that language can be a tool of oppression, and an important part of exercising autonomy and of advancing racial and social justice."
As of 2018, 67.3 million U.S residents reported speaking a primary language other than English. Everyone has a fundamental right to communicate in whatever language they prefer; but sometimes- for whatever reason- equal access is denied. The effects of which reach outside the courtroom where children get removed from families, residents losing their homes, and victims losing their safety or freedom. While language justice reaches beyond having a certified court interpreter the two are so connected it is hard to separate them. Certified court interpreters bring language accessibility into the courtroom, by helping clients fill out forms, understand their proceeding and communicate with their lawyer. In short, court interpreters commit to bring language justice to a system that marginalizes their clients based on national origin and ethnic identification by ensuring equal access to language services.
Pandemic Challenges Court Interpreters To Deliver Language Justice
For court interpreters, clients lacking access to technology has been a huge barrier during the pandemic. Some have unstable or no internet connection at all; whereas others have limits on data plans, lack computers or put themselves in danger trying to access one. Victims of domestic violence increase risk of bodily harm when accessing technology or trying to contact attorneys. According to the Center for Survivor Advocacy and Justice (CSAJ), one in three white women reported domestic violence during quarantine. Quite dramatically, that number grows to over 50% for those already marginalized by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and citizenship status.
A 2017 study by Legal Services Corporation (2017) proves that before the pandemic, 85% of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received little to no legal help and that 71% of low-income households experienced at least 1 civil legal problem the year before. As the pandemic rages on, legal services and resources have become increasingly strained and more urgent. Lawyers reported uneven and limited availability of remote phone and video calls, as well as difficulty accessing clients during critical stages of their cases. While certified court interpreters themselves cannot deliver justice overall, they have been able to fill some of the gaps like delivering translated materials for anything that needs to be signed and documents that clients might need to refer back to in the future. In response to the pandemic, many courts have expanded e-filing services, text communications and held remote hearings; which involved a learning curve as with any new rollout.
Although there is much work left to be done in making the judicial system more accessible, legal interpreting training can bring language justice to LEP communities with modern technology and certifications. If you or someone you know is interested in our online Business & Community Interpreter Training Course with live instructors, our classes are offered in Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Haitian Creole or Vietnamese languages.
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