The Honorable Gerald W. VandeWalle
North Dakota Supreme Court
600 E. Boulevard Ave., Dept 180
Bismarck, ND 58505-0530
Re: Proposed Administrative Rule Regarding Court Interpreter Qualifications and Procedures
Dear Chief Justice VandeWalle:
In response to your referral some time ago, the Court Services Administration Committee has reviewed issues concerning qualifications and availability of court interpreters. For reasons explained below, the Committee recommends adoption of a rule generally describing qualifications for court interpreters and providing general procedures governing the provision of court interpreter services.
The Committee concluded without much hesitation that there is need for a more structured description of court interpreter qualifications. Provisions applying to court interpreter services are found in various state statutes and in our court rules, but few provide guidance concerning qualifications. Fewer still address procedural issues that may arise in proceedings in which interpreter services are provided. Our state is not dissimilar from most other states, which address court interpreter issues in a patchwork of statutes and rules. A few states (Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington are notable examples) have established comprehensive court interpreter programs that provide training, certification, and detailed procedures governing court interpreter services. The Committee concluded establishing an ambitious rule would be counterproductive in light of limited resources and a smaller pool from which to obtain court interpreter services.
The proposed administrative rule, in Section 2, would establish basic qualification requirements. With respect to interpreters for the deaf or hearing-impaired, the requirements reflect current statutory provisions found in NDCC Chapter 28-33. With respect to foreign language speakers, Section 2B would establish the general requirement that the interpreter must certified by a recognized interpreter certification program in another jurisdiction and presence on a statewide roster if there is one. This provision would allow our state to obtain court interpreter services from those who have satisfied certification requirements in other jurisdictions. Section 3 of the proposed rule would provide a "safety valve" for judges when officially certified court interpreters cannot be obtained. The provision would allow a judge to appoint a person whose qualifications have been determined by examination or other appropriate means. The language is adapted, in part, from the alternative set out in NDCC Section 28-33-01(4) regarding interpreters for the deaf or hearing-impaired. To provide guidance, the section would explain what would constitute "actual qualifications" with respect to interpreting for the deaf or hearing-impaired or a non-English speaker.
Section 4 of the proposed rule would establish general procedures and requirements with respect to the provision of court interpreter services. These procedures and requirements include an interpreter oath, which places emphasis on the responsibility to provide true, complete, and impartial interpretation (Section 4A); a conflict of interest and bias provision requiring the interpreter to reveal conflicts that may impair impartial interpretation and to refrain from conduct that may appear biased (Section 4B); a procedure for objecting to an interpreter's qualifications (Section 4C); general direction for determining the method of interpretation to be used (Section 4D); an allowance for recording the interpreted testimony, which is adapted from NDCC Section 28-33-07 (Section 4E); and general provisions governing the need for an additional interpreter and for the removal of an interpreter (Sections 4F and 4G).
The Court Services Administration Committee concluded the proposed rule would provide a useful general framework for obtaining and providing interpreter services in our courts. The Committee voted unanimously to forward the proposed rule to the Supreme Court for its consideration. The Committee is also currently at work, through a subcommittee, on developing a practical "nuts and bolts" guide for judges and court personnel for use in determining when and how interpreter services should be acquired and used. Similar guides have been developed in other jurisdictions. Such a guide would provide a useful information resource to our judges and court personnel and would support the general objectives of the proposed rule.
If you have any questions concerning the Committee's proposal, I would be pleased to visit with you at your convenience.
Carol Ronning Kapsner, Chair
Court Services Administration Committee