Significant increase in interpreter employment
The courtrooms in Hampton Roads have seen an increase in the use of interpreters for the past three years. According to the report the increase was up by 32 percent due to the rise in the number of people entering the criminal justice system in the county who need language assistance. According to the courts, these people not only face the language barrier, they need to understand the jargon and rules used by the system.
It is not easy, according to staff interpreter Raquel Perez-Lopez who works for the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia. There is a difference between the court vocabulary and procedures that could not be easily grasped by ordinary people.
It is the Office of the Supreme Court of Virginia that does the coordination for interpreter requests coming from all the courts within the state. In Hampton Roads, 2,467 court interpreters were used in 2014, compared to 1,863 interpreters used in 2012. The higher increases in interpreter use were seen in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Newport News. In 2012, Newport News used 514, which rose to 617 in 2014. In Norfolk, they used 485 court interpreters in 2012 and 565 in 2014. Virginia Beach had the highest increase, from 431 in 2012 to 715 court interpreters in 2014. These numbers comprise civil and criminal cases.
Hampton Roads uses court interpreters who speak Vietnamese, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Spanish. Interpreters such as Mourad Mario Fellah from Newport News relate that the work is very challenging because there were cases where different dialects were spoken. He has been doing Arabic interpreting for the courts around Hampton Road for five years, and is usually called in once a month. Often they are called in for traffic cases but there are times that they have to interpret for civil and criminal cases.
High demand for interpreting services
Perez-Lopez, a 20-year veteran interpreter, is in-charge of coordinating the requests for court interpreters in Hampton Roads. She usually receives about 50 to 100 requests each week. They have a pool of 150 interpreters but since the need for interpreters increased in Virginia Beach, she is there every day and also does interpreting work for the other courthouses as she is the only staff interpreter. The others are all contractors.
As much as possible, all the court interpreters should be certified by the National Center for State Courts. They also use uncertified interpreters but the pay is lower. At the moment certification is only available for six languages: Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Russian and Spanish. Perez-Lopez determines the qualification of interpreters in other languages by requiring them to attend an orientation and giving them a multiple choice exam.