While I was thinking about the topic of my second post in the court series leading up to the CTC conference in September, I came across an interesting news article. The state of California just announced that it will now provide court interpreters for free in all court cases. In the past, the state – along with many others – has only provided interpretation services in criminal cases. However, ensuring that everyone understands what is going on in the courtroom, no matter the case, is critical to making sure justice is dispensed fairly, efficiently and accurately. This means that court interpretation services are a crucial part of the justice system.

While this move by California is great, it is a bit behind the times. Back in 2010, the Department of Justice issued guidance on the issue of interpreters within the judicial system, noting that a particular concern was, “limiting the types of proceedings for which qualified interpreter services are provided by the court.” The letter went on to state: “Some courts only provide competent interpreter assistance in limited categories of cases, such as in criminal, termination of parental rights, or domestic violence proceedings. DOJ, however, views access to all court proceedings as critical.” This means that all states have had five years to expand their court translation services to cover all types of cases, in accordance with the Department of Justice’s standards.

However, states have been slow to take on this expansion, largely due to the high costs. California, for example, has the nation’s largest court system, spread out across a huge state. They also have about seven million residents with limited English proficiency, who speak over 200 different languages. The cost to provide translators in those locations for these residents is huge; in 2010, California spent nearly $93 million on court interpretation services. So in order to reconcile the challenge of fixed budgets with the increased demand for interpreters, state and local governments need to rethink their manual processes for deploying these services and look toward technology instead.

One major way to reduce the cost of providing interpreters and ensure that all citizens participate in a fair and balanced judicial process is using video services. To address the rising demand for interpreters and to help streamline court procedures, Cisco has developed a Connected Justice™ Video Interpretation solution (CJVI). CJVI allows interpreters to virtually join court proceedings using the high-quality video and audio features of Cisco® Unified Communications Manager and Cisco TelePresence® end-points.

The benefits of CJVI are numerous. The solution supports consecutive language interpretation, where the interpreter translates for all to hear over an in-room PA system, and simultaneous language interpretation, where the interpreter can communicate directly to the defendant without interrupting court proceedings. Cisco’s high-quality technology makes it seem like the interpreter is there in person, so nothing is lost in translation. Video solutions also allow for on-demand translation services. These situations arise when a defendant or witness requires immediate interpretation, and ensures no confusion or misrepresentation of information occurs. Lastly, video interpretation allows courts to provide services to a particularly underserved population: those needing support for American Sign Language.

The use of video services to improve court translation services is not new, either. The Florida court system’s 9th district began using CJVI over two years ago. By integrating video and audio technology, courtrooms were able to align the supply and demand for interpretation services, and as a result, that state has eliminated unnecessary expenditures, supported an increase in caseloads and improved the quality of interpretation services across its judicial system. Now, the solution is used in eleven different courtrooms across six different circuits, with more getting ready to deploy.

So while I was pleased to see California take this necessary step forward, technology has advanced enough in recent years that no state should still be limiting its interpretation services to only criminal court cases. By using video solutions such as CJVI, courts across the county should be able to live up to the Department of Justice’s mandate in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Doing this will make sure that a cornerstone of our justice system – equality – remains intact.


Judge M. Boyd Patterson, Jr. (ret.)

Business Development Manager

Connected Justice