Court Interpreters

By law, in California all official court business must be conducted in English.  So, when 1 of the parties or witnesses in a case does not speak English well, that person will need a court interpreter (who speaks English and the non-English speaker’s first language) so he or she can understand what is going on and talk to the judge, if needed.

Note: There are also American sign language interpreters for parties and witnesses that are deaf or hard-of-hearing (or have another disability). The court will provide a sign language interpreter for you or other accommodation you may need. You can ask your court’s ADA Coordinator for more information. Or read For Persons With Disabilities Requesting Accommodations to learn about the court's policy for accommodating persons with disabilities.

In some cases (like criminal cases, juvenile delinquency cases and usually in domestic violence cases) the interpreter is paid for by the court and may be a court employee. In civil cases, your court may also provide interpreters at no cost, especially for cases like family law cases where domestic violence is an issue, custody and visitation cases, guardianships and conservatorships, most elder abuse, dependent adult abuse and civil harassment restraining order cases, evictions, and others.  But there may be some cases where if you need an interpreter, you will have to find one and pay for own interpreter or get a friend to interpret. Ask your court's self-help center or court clerk to find out if your court will provide an interpreter for you at no cost.

If you think you will need an interpreter for your court hearing, start by asking someone who speaks English to call the court clerk as early as possible, but at least a week before your hearing and ask for a court interpreter for you. You may have to pay a fee for the interpreter if your court cannot provide one at no cost.

If the court interpreter is not available, it is your responsibility to get your own interpreter. You can ask a friend, relative, or someone else to interpret for you when you go to court. Do not ask a child to interpret for you.

Keep in mind that just because someone you know speaks both English and your first language does not mean he or she would be a good interpreter. A court interpreter needs to be familiar with legal terms and concepts in both English and your first language, and most people are not. If you get someone who cannot accurately interpret everything the judge or the lawyers are saying to you, you may miss important information and be at a disadvantage. Court hearings are your 1 chance to tell your side of the story to the judge. If you have an interpreter that does not get across what you are saying exactly as you are saying it, you will not have a second chance to talk to the judge. That is why it is very important you have an interpreter with experience.

Using a court interpreter can be awkward because you have to go through another person to get your information or talk to the judge.  Get tips to help you work with a court interpreter.

To make sure you get an experienced court interpreter, you should consider a professional interpreter who has passed the required examinations and has officially registered and been approved as a court interpreter by the Judicial Council of California.

There are 2 types of officially-approved court interpreters in California:

  • Certified court interpreters:  Only interpreters who pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination and register with the Judicial Council are referred to as “certified" in these 13 languages:

    American Sign Language and
     Arabic  Mandarin
     Eastern Armenian  Portuguese
     Western Armenian  Russian
     Cantonese  Spanish
     Japanese  Tagalog
     Korean  Vietnamese
  •  Registered court interpreters:  Interpreters of spoken languages for which there is no state certifying examination are called “registered interpreters of non-designated languages.” They must pass an English proficiency examination, and register with the state’s Judicial Council.

Find a list of certified and registered court interpreters.

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