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Bar News - August 10, 2007

Language Problems Addressed by Judiciary Interpreters


In a follow-up to recent articles in Bar News regarding the urgent needs in the courts for interpreters, the following article was submitted to Bar News by Rosemary Dann, a NH Bar member and secretary on the board of directors for the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT).  NAJIT issued this joint statement with the American Translators Association (ATA) in response to the recent dismissal of a Maryland criminal case against Mahamu Kanneth, who speaks an obscure dialect of Swahili. According to the court, clerks were unable to find a qualified interpreter and this delay thereby denied the defendant his right to a speedy trial.


Following are several excerpts from the statement, which may be found in its entirety on the NAJIT Web site:


“In our organizations’ view, this case is an unfortunate symbol of a systemic problem that affects our entire country, a problem for which we all share responsibility: the need for language professionals to be identified and readily available to serve our courts and justice partners.


We represent two national organizations, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) and the American Translators Association (ATA), that have made great efforts to network with community and government entities to make them aware of our extensive networks of language professionals. On occasion our advocacy efforts have been unsuccessful but our overtures have also sometimes been dismissed.


When a language barrier exists and a person’s liberty or a victim’s life is at stake, it is always best to err on the side of caution by appointing a competent interpreter. When state or federal authorities are unprepared, uninformed or unwilling to find a way to resolve a language barrier, the courts are poorly served, defendants’ rights are unprotected, victims are doubly victimized, and our justice system suffers.


Courts and other justice partners often say that they do not have the funding to extend searches or to contract with service providers beyond their jurisdiction. They say that they are unable to assess an individual’s language proficiency. They say that they cannot train bilinguals to function as language links in cases where experienced court interpreters are difficult to find. This is exactly why policies need to be established outlining the various options in cases of urgent need.


We need to support the recruitment and training of interpreters and to certify interpreters in many languages other than Spanish. We need to create and fund certification exams in languages for which certification does not currently exist. Lastly, we need to offer incentives to recruit and retain already certified and qualified interpreters and translators.


The courts, the defense, the prosecutors’ offices, and law enforcement agencies all need to establish language assistance processes that work accurately and effectively. Only when the justice system taps into existing networks of language professionals to seek out potential interpreters, will shocking situations such as the Mahamu Kanneth case be avoided.”


Visit or for more information on this important subject.




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