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December 04, 2006

Pa. Courts to Provide Interpreters for Legal Proceedings

People who do not speak English as a primary language will have access to interpreters in legal proceedings thanks to a bill supported by the Bar Association and signed into law by Gov. Edward G. Rendell on Nov. 29.

"Access to the court system for our immigrants promotes two things - justice and economic development," said former Chancellor Andrew A. Chirls, who was instrumental in getting the legislation moving in Harrisburg. "When people know they can come to Pennsylvania and use the legal system that reinforces their rights at home and in their economic transactions, it helps us to grow. We want people to play by the rules and prosper; the system that enforces the rules has to be accessible to those people."

Chirls credited the hard work of the Bar Association and other organizations for the bill becoming law. "Paul Uyehara at Community Legal Services and Art Read at Friends of Farmworkers put endless hours into talking with legislators and staffers. Our language access task force, headed by Shira Goodman, and the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness made the case for language access over many months," Chirls said.

"I am looking forward to how the availability of interpreters is going to develop. The First Judicial District has been a leader in this field. The Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts seems to have plans in place for certification of interpreters and training of county court personnel, and I am confident that it is really going to work," he said.

Gov. Rendell told KYW Newsradio 1060 that the new law will ensure that those with limited proficiency in English will be provided with certified translators. "This bill is necessary because we know that some of those called to testify do not always speak English and adequate interpreters are not always available. Again, in some areas of the state they are, but it is not uniform. Former Chancellor Chirls put it this way: 'Justice is blind, but her ears must not be closed to those who do not speak English well,'" Gov. Rendell said.

The Board of Governors approved a resolution in 2003 concerning equal access to courts and administrative agencies by limited English-proficient persons and persons with disabilities.

After the board approved the resolution, Chirls visited with legislators in 2004 and 2005 to have the proposal turned into law. Chirls said he worked with Association lobbyist Tony Crisci on drafting points and technical amendments to the legislation. "We were constantly letting the governor and legislature know we viewed this as an important priority," Chirls said. He added that this is the first recommendation of the Interbranch Commission that has become law.

Anyone interested in working as a legal interpreter in the PA Judicial system can go to
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