This month’s “Be Neutral” newsletter from the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution highlighted the Georgia Supreme Court’s revised rule on providing interpreter services for people with limited English proficiency. The rule now requires the court to provide free access to interpreters for all court-managed functions, including court alternative dispute resolution programs.
The revisions bring the state into compliance with standards set by the US Department of Justice, which recently put out a warning to state courts that if they don’t comply with the standards, they’re violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Prior to Georgia, the state judiciaries in Colorado and Maine also agreed to implement the DOJ’s standards. Providing free interpreter services in the courts obviously increases access to justice for people with limited English proficiency. From the courtroom to the mediation table, how can justice be served if a party doesn’t understand the proceedings? Some might argue that instead of the courts providing interpreters, parties should bring friends or family members to interpret for them. However, friends or family might bring bias into the proceedings, or simply not be able to interpret effectively or accurately. Interpreters provided by the courts would be trained, neutral professionals.
However, the DOJ is experiencing push-back from judges and court administrators. Two national groups, the Conference of Chief Judges and the Conference of State Court Administrators, argue that the money simply isn’t there to provide the extra services. In “Be Neutral,” GODR Director Shinji Morokuma suggested that local mediation providers in Georgia may have to cut back on services in order to accommodate the added costs of interpreters, which are unknown at this point.
The way the debate has been painted so far, it seems like a lose-lose situation. But are there other options? Are you involved in a mediation program that provides interpreter services? How does the program provide those services while managing cost?