Position Statement – 2015
A.162 / S.1788
Oral Translation of Orders of Protection for Limited English Proficient Litigants and Witnesses
This bill would require courts to use a court-appointed interpreter to translate the essential terms of a temporary or final order of protection on the record. This bill would help to ensure that limited English proficient (LEP), Deaf or hearing impaired litigants have a meaningful opportunity to understand the substantive terms of the order issued by the court.
While New York courts are already required to provide for interpreters in proceedings involving LEP, Deaf, or hard of hearing litigants and witnesses, many courts have not traditionally utilized these interpreters to translate the detailed terms and conditions of orders of protection on the record, particularly upon the issuance of a temporary orders of protection. As a result, some LEP victims have not adequately enforced orders in their favor because they did not understand the provisions. Alternatively, some offenders have escaped accountability for violating orders issued against them based upon similar claims. While this bill does not require written translation of all an order’s terms and conditions or translation of the actual order into hard copy, translation of the essential terms and conditions on the record by an approved interpreter will provide these litigants and witnesses measurably increased relief.
While WBASNY supports this bill in the current fiscal climate, WBASNY is concerned that more needs to be done to support these litigants. Regardless of their English language skills, court appearances can be confusing, stressful and traumatic for many victims of domestic violence, as well as offenders. A hard copy of the order of protection in their native language is the most effective mechanism to ensure that all parties understand the entire order and facilitate both the enforcement of the orders and the prosecution of violations.
Because orders of protection are issued in local Justice Courts, Supreme Court, as well as in County and Family Courts, WBASNY urges that this bill be amended to include translation of orders of protection in any proceeding in which one may be issued. However, the language of the proposed bill references a “court-appointed” translator. It is recognized that not all courts have prompt access to a “court-appointed translator” in all of the possible languages that could be necessary to comply with the bill as written. There is concern that, for example, for an arraignment after business hours in local justice courts, that this language could be understood to preclude the issuance of a temporary order of protection that may well be necessary for the safety of a victim, until a “court appointed” interpreter can be secured. WBASNY urges that the bill be amended to first make clear that the inability to access a translator does not preclude the issuance of an order or protection or limit the enforceability of any order that is issued. In addition, loosening of the language requiring a “court appointed” translator will allow for the meaningful translation of the order of protection with the use of readily accessible telephone translation services that are available twenty-four hours a day or even internet based translation services. This more cost-effective and practical approach will provide the meaningful translation and accomplish the goal of the legislation without over-burdening the court system.
Further, the bill does not require translation of the entire order, only the “essential terms”. Orders of protection contain many terms and conditions and their issuance has many implications, both state and federal. WBASNY is concerned that what is deemed “essential” will vary from judge to judge and may neglect to include critical provisions, such as firearms restrictions and interstate recognition and enforcement.
WBASNY looks forward to further conversations with the bill sponsors or OCA to address these concerns in a practical and fiscally responsible fashion.