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Ensuring Equal Access for LEP Persons

Background Information

According to the 2000 census, one of every four persons residing in New Jersey speaks a language other than English at home, up from one out of every five persons in 1990. Many of these persons need the assistance of interpreters when they appear in court as parties or witnesses if they are going to participate meaningfully in those proceedings. In the first year for which statistics were available, court year 1996-1997, interpreters were needed in Superior Court for over 45,000 events in forty-six languages. By Court Year 2006-2007, the volume of interpreted proceedings almost doubled to 86,765 events.

The Supreme Court adopted the principle of "equal access to courts for linguistic minorities" in 1985, acting on the recommendations of the Supreme Court Task Force on Interpreter and Translation Services. The Court reiterated its support for that principle in 1993 when it stated in its Action Plan on Minority Concerns that, "the courts and their support services shall be equally accessible for all persons regardless of the degree to which they are able to communicate effectively in the English language." Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz reaffirmed the Court's commitment to this principle in her remarks at the 30th Anniversary Dinner of Legal Services of New Jersey, November 20, 1996.

The Judiciary has embarked on several programs to reach the Supreme Court's goal of equal access for linguistic minorities. First, policies have been and continue to be developed to establish a conceptual framework to guide judges, attorneys, interpreters, and court managers. For example, the Court has adopted a Code of Professional Conduct for Interpreters, Transliterators, and Translators as well as a court rule to authorize the Chief Justice to prescribe the manner by which interpreters are appointed and perform their duties.

Second, examinations have been developed to establish minimum performance standards for court interpreters and bilingual court support personnel. The Judiciary now tests interpreters in twenty-two languages, has legal translation tests for Korean, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish, works collaboratively with the Department of Personnel on bilingual proficiency testing for classified court support personnel, and develops bilingual proficiency exams for unclassified court support personnel.

Third, resources for professional development have been developed with two primary audiences: interpreters themselves, and judges and trial court support personnel who use their services. The program consists primariliy of a one-day course that serves to introduce interpreters to their role and responsibilities and orientation programs for new judges and court support personnel.

The last major aspect of this program consists of numerous administrative efforts to create a solid and comprehensive underpinning for the program. This includes a statistical reporting system, action research projects (e.g., testing the feasibility of telephone court interpreting), and the publication of the Registry of Interpreting Resources.

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