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High Court order guarantees interpreters in legal proceedings

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State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young says language should not be a barrier to justice. He says the wave of immigration has made the need to address the problem more urgent.

“We have a great deal more non-English-speaking citizens and non-citizens in our state that are involved in our legal system either the civil or criminal side of it,” said Young.

Young says advances in technology have also made interpreter services more available and affordable.  

The rule says criminal defendants and witnesses will never have to pay for an interpreter. In some cases, courts could try to recover interpreter costs from parties to a lawsuit.

Justice Bridget Mary McCormack helped draft the rule. She says some counties in Michigan already supply interpreters. Some, she says, are not doing a very good job.

McCormack says cost should not be an issue.

“At the end of the day, what the court is saying is, access to our courts is not something we’re willing to put a price tag on. We’re gonna guarantee it,” said McCormack.

McCormack says, in some cases, domestic abuse victims have been forced to rely on a spouse accused of the crime to translate for them.  

The issue in Michigan has attracted the attention of the U.S. Justice Department.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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