Amended Rules for the Use of Interpreters for Non-English-Speaking Persons

On June 15, 2023, the Supreme Court of Georgia approved amended Rules for the Use of Interpreters for Non-English-Speaking Persons to take effect on January 1, 2024. The amended rules are a product of several months of diligent work performed by the Judicial Council Standing Committee on Court Interpreters, chaired by Justice Carla Wong McMillian, and are available here:

The changes are significant as it was the first update to the rules since 2012. Excerpts from a memo prepared by Judicial Council of Georgia/AOC Staff Attorney Billy Scott are included below to summarize the changes.

In Article I of the revised Rules for Legal Interpreting in the State of Georgia (the “Rules”), the Committee added definitions and sets out its role regarding establishing programs for licensing interpreters and establishing the minimum requirements and procedures for qualifying interpreters.  The Committee will also establish fees for licensing and maintain an Interpreter Roster.  The Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”) will provide all necessary regulatory and staff support to the Committee.

In Article II of the Rules, the Committee created three categories of licensed interpreters and accounted for interpreters in training and ad hoc interpreters. These designations replace the Certified Interpreter List, Conditionally Approved Interpreter List, and Registered Interpreter List contained in the existing rules.  The Committee used these designations to create a framework that courts can use to appoint interpreters that takes into account the skill of the interpreter and the complexity and gravity of the proceeding.  For example, the interpreters with the highest performance on the listed qualifying exams are termed “master licensed legal interpreters,” which are recommended to interpret any type of proceeding. Interpreters with lower scores will be limited in the types of proceedings for which the Committee recommends that courts appoint them. The full framework is set out in Appendix A to the Rules.  Article II also provides for a designation for apprentice interpreters and allows for individuals to act as interpreters in situations in which it would be overly burdensome or impossible to use an interpreter from the Committee’s Interpreter Roster.  For example, an arraignment for a defendant who spoke a language for which there are no interpreters currently licensed in Georgia would require an ad hoc interpreter.  Finally, as in the existing rules, the new Rules state that there shall be no uniform, statewide compensation system for language interpreters, and that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated shall govern the compensation of sign language interpreters.

Article III of the Rules contains detailed requirements that interpreters must meet to maintain their designations and requirements for continuing education. The new Rules set out these requirements in greater detail than the existing rules, which simply gave the previous Commission the power to establish the requirements.  Article III also sets out conditions by which an interpreter whose license has lapsed can reinstate his or her license.

In Article IV, the Rules set out a more detailed procedure for disciplining interpreters.  The list of reasons for which the Committee may discipline an interpreter is nearly the same as the list of infractions in the existing rules, with the following addition to the list: “misrepresentation to a court or third party of their current designation or status with the Committee.”  The disciplinary procedures mirror those used by the Judicial Council Board of Court Reporting and include descriptions of possible sanctions.

Article V contains the recommendations of the Committee for the appointment of interpreters.  While these recommendations are not binding on courts, the Committee hopes that courts will grant the recommendations the appropriate deference.  This Article also contains recommendations for individuals who should not be appointed as interpreters because of conflicts and the use and explanation of relay and team interpreting, among other recommendations.

Article VI of the Rules contains the interpreter’s oath, which is unchanged from the existing rules.  This Article also contains sections on confidentiality and public comment, which are substantially similar to those in the existing rules.

In Article VII, the Rules expand on the existing rules with regards to creating a record of the proceedings.  The new Rules require the interpreter to be identified on the record and prohibit interpreters from extemporaneously sight translating written evidentiary material without proper preparation and advanced notice or interpreting English audio or video recordings.

Article VIII of the Rules contains the Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters, which  is substantially the same as that in the existing rules, with the addition of the following: “(18) [Interpreters shall b]ring to the court’s attention any circumstance or condition that impedes full compliance with any applicable provisions of this Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters, including interpreter fatigue, the need for team interpreting, inability to hear, or inadequate knowledge of specialized terminology.”  Further, Article VIII states that if an interpreter is subject to multiple ethical guidelines, he or she must follow the strictest applicable guideline.

Finally, Appendix A of the new Rules sets out the hierarchy of interpreter designations and recommends that courts appoint the most qualified interpreter available.  Appendix A includes information also set forth in Article II so it can be used as an independent reference without turning to the entirety of the Rules.