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April 15, 2014
Supreme Court amends court interpreter rules

By Megan E. Davis
Associate Editor

The Florida Supreme Court approved changes to the certification process and regulation of court interpreters.

The amendments, submitted by the Court Interpreter Certification Board, make the Florida Rules for Certification and Regulation of Court Interpreters, adopted in 2006, more stringent and are set to take effect May 1.

As adopted in 2006, the rules established two levels of interpreters based on expertise, including certified interpreters and duly qualified interpreters.

Certified interpreters were required to attend a training program put on by the Office of the State Courts Administrator; pass a written exam; pass an oral proficiency exam, unless the applicant had already passed an equivalent exam in another state or held a certificate from the federal court system; submit to a background check if required by the certification board; and fulfill continuing education requirements.

Requirements to become a duly qualified interpreter included OSCA training, familiarity with the court interpreters’ code of conduct, and an understanding of basic legal terminology in both languages.

A study by the Supreme Court Commission on Trial Court Performance and Accountability found problems with the certification process, including lack of incentive for interpreters to become certified and inadequate standards for duly qualified interpreters.

The certification board agreed, noting that rules did not express a preference for certified, rather than duly qualified, interpreters.

In addition to changing the name to the Florida Rules for Certification and Regulation of Spoken Language Court Interpreters, rule amendments adopted by the court create three designations for interpreters with the expectation that interpreters progress from lower to higher levels of expertise.

A certified court interpreter designation signifies the highest level of expertise.

Interpreters who reach the same level of proficiency as a certified interpreter in a language for which no state certification exam exists will be called language-skilled interpreters. Should an exam in their language be created, language-skilled interpreters will be required to pass the exam and become certified within two years.

A provisionally approved interpreter designation will signify an entry-level, minimally qualified interpreter. Those interpreters will be required to become certified within two years.

Within the court rules, a duly qualified interpreter will mean a language-skilled interpreter only if a certified or language skilled interpreter is not available.

Under the new rules, all interpreters will be required to complete OSCA training, pass a written exam, document 20 hours of courtroom observation, take an oath to uphold the court interpreters’ code of conduct, pass a background check, agree to earn 16 continuing education credits, and pay an application fee.

To become certified, interpreters must pass an oral performance exam unless certified in another state or at the federal level. When a full performance exam is not available, applicants must pass oral proficiency interviews and an abbreviated oral exam.

Language-skilled interpreters will be required to take an oral proficiency interview.

Additional rule changes require nondesignated court interpreters, used when designated interpreters are not available, to adhere to the code of professional conduct. Amendments allow the board to bring disciplinary action against any nondesignated or designated interpreter.

The court acted in Case No. SC13-304.

[Revised: 07-23-2014]