By law, in California all official court business must be conducted in English. When one 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.
In certain cases, like criminal and juvenile delinquency and dependency cases, cases involving the Department of Child Support Services, and domestic violence cases, the interpreter is paid for by the court and may be a court employee. If you are a party in these types of cases and need an interpreter, start by asking your attorney or someone who speaks English to contact the court clerk at least a week before your hearing and ask for a court interpreter for you.
In other cases, most notably civil cases and family law cases, with the exception of domestic violence proceedings, the person needing the interpreter must get and pay for his or her own interpreter or get a friend to help interpret. 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.
When arranging for your own interpreter, 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. That is why it is very important you have an interpreter with experience. If you decide to use a noncertified or nonregistered interpreter, such as a friend or relative, have the person read the instructions and duties for interpreting in the information sheet called Foreign Language Interpreter’s Duties-Civil and Small Claims (INT-200).
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.
Note: There are also American Sign Language interpreters and real time captioning for parties and witnesses that are deaf or hard-of-hearing (or have another disability). The court will provide a sign language interpreter or court reporter for you or other accommodation you may need. You can read more about this in the For Persons With Disabilities Requesting Accommodations section of this website to learn about the court's policy for accommodating persons with disabilities. Make your request as soon as possible, but at least 5 days prior to the hearing.