Tennessee Supreme Court Enhances Language Access Services

June 27, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has modified its rules to provide Limited English Proficient (LEP) Tennesseans with more meaningful access to court hearings. The new rules go into effect on July 1, when an additional $2 million in funding will be available to the courts. The additional funding provided an opportunity to modify how language access services are delivered. 

“I am grateful to Governor Haslam and our legislature for taking this important step to ensure that justice for all is available for all Tennesseans,” Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said. “It is very important that not only those charged with a crime, but also crime victims, divorcing parents, persons who owe rent and anyone who finds himself/herself before the courts are able to communicate effectively.” 

The new funding and the new rules will help judges better communicate with parties in civil and criminal cases and will enable LEP persons to more fully participate in court proceedings and understand what is expected of them. Before the new funding, interpreter costs were paid for by the state in cases where a person was entitled to an attorney and could not afford to pay for an attorney. These cases included criminal, child abuse and neglect cases and termination of parental rights cases.

The new rules will now provide for qualified interpreters to be paid for all hearings before a judge or judicial magistrate in cases where a court finds an interpreter is needed. 

The Tennessee Supreme Court rules have always required that the courts appoint interpreters as needed and that the interpreters appointed, if possible, be credentialed. Credentialed interpreters have taken courses and passed tests to become qualified to interpret in the court system. 

For more information on Interpreter Services, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/programs/court-interpreters

View the Order

Amendment 06/29/2012

New Provisions with the Rule

  • In all cases when a party to a case or a witness testifying during a case needs an interpreter during the court hearing.
  • In criminal cases where:
    • The defendant is indigent and has been appointed state funded counsel (public defender or appointed counsel) and the interpretation is during:
      •  A court hearing.
      • Pre-trial conferences between defendants and district attorneys in order to relay a plea offer immediately prior to a court appearance or to discuss a continuance.
      • Communication between client and state funded counsel appointed pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 13 and communication between client, state funded counsel and others for the purpose of gathering background information, investigation, trial preparations and witness interviews.
    • If the defendant is able to afford an attorney, then the interpreter costs will be paid when the interpretation is during court hearings.
    • Victim(s) of crime, or in the case of a homicide, the next-of-kin, are present and an interpreter is needed so the victim/next-of-kin can understand the court proceedings.