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The Interbranch Commission implements recommendations from the Report of The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial, and Gender Bias in The Justice System. View the Report

Interpreter Services Committee

Chaired by Leonard Rivera, Esq., the Interpreter Services Committee's overarching goal is to improve access among litigants of limited English proficiency to interpreter and translation services in the Commonwealth's courts and administrative agencies. The Committee’s current initiatives include:

  • education of state court judges on best practices when interacting with immigrant court users;
  • improving language access in the courts; and
  • outreach to limited English proficiency communities.

Immigrants in State Courts: Over the course of the last three years, the Commission received numerous reports of immigrants being arrested and detained by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in and around Pennsylvania courthouses when they appeared for trials as witnesses or defendants or were pursuing other court business. These actions by ICE have prevented immigrants from accessing the Pennsylvania courts, in violation of their due process rights. In response, Commission staff drafted and submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a memo containing these reports, relevant case law, and recommendations (found in the right-hand column) for the Court to address this unconstitutional interference with the administration of the state’s courts. The Committee also included reports concerning improper involvement by some judges and court personnel in immigration matters in their courts. As a result of the Commission’s efforts, the AOPC issued a directive entitled Advisory re: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (attached at right), which advised judicial districts that an inquiry by a judicial officer or employee into the immigration status of an individual, based on their language ability or perceived national origin, may be regarded as a violation of Title VI. Additionally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) issued Directive No. 11072.1 in January 2018, limiting the scope of the agency’s enforcement activities in federal, state, and local court facilities to specified individuals. This directive can be found at right, under Reports.

Most recently, the Commission worked with the Pennsylvania Bar Association (“PBA”) to draft proposed guidelines designed to reduce ICE’s presence in state courthouses and limit its efforts to arrest and detain immigrants without a judicial warrant in and around these facilities. The guidelines were submitted to the PA Supreme Court in March of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Although the pandemic forestalled the Court’s ability to act on this proposal, the Committee is redoubling its efforts now that the Commonwealth is successfully emerging from the pandemic.

Language Access: The Committee played a key role in the passage of Act 172, which established a certification system for court interpreters and mandated that certified or otherwise qualified interpreters be provided in certain court and most administrative proceedings. The Committee works closely with the Language Access Coordinator in the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to educate Pennsylvania judicial districts about their responsibilities under the law and the state regulations regarding the provision of interpreter services. See the link under Reports, at right, for the website maintained by the Office of Interpreter Services for more information on interpreter services within the Pennsylvania court system, including the statewide roster of certified or otherwise qualified interpreters, guidelines for the procurement of interpreters, training sessions, and bilingual court documents.

On May 22, 2021, the AOPC published proposed amendments to Act 172’s interpreter regulations and compensation schedules. After discussing the proposal’s provisions with numerous interpreters employed by the Commonwealth, the Committee submitted formal comments to the AOPC, which are attached at right under Reports. The comments support strengthening language access and honoring interpreters’ hard work by ensuring that they are sufficiently compensated for the skills they perform both on-site and remotely.

To increase juror diversity throughout the Commonwealth, the Committee worked with the AOPC, the Commission’s Jury Service Committee, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to produce a pamphlet that educates limited English proficient (“LEP”) individuals about jury service and on the level of English language proficiency needed to serve on a federal jury. So far, 2,000 copies of this pamphlet (attached at right) have been distributed to the U.S. Western District Courts for dissemination at naturalization ceremonies. The Eastern and Middle Federal Districts also plan to participate in this initiative. The Commission has also finalized a revised version of the jury service pamphlet for use in state judicial districts throughout the Commonwealth.  

Education and Outreach: The Committee has collaborated with Widener University's Legal Education Institute to provide training for interpreters, judges, and attorneys on the proper use of interpreters in court and administrative proceedings. Additionally, following the release of the AOPC’s Language Access Plan, the Committee compiled training materials for language access training seminars to share with District Attorney Offices, police departments, minority bar associations, and other non-profit organizations to encourage them to hold low-cost training sessions.

The Committee's past initiatives include:

  • a survey of the provision of interpreter services in administrative agency proceedings;
  • translation and publication of key court forms;
  • and other initiatives outlined in Chapter One of the Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System.