New Court Interpreter Regulations Affect Domestic Violence Proceedings

Posted on November 25, 2010 in Providers | Short Link
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By Jill Swiontek, PA Projects Staff Attorney, PCADV

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently approved the Administrative Regulations for Court Interpreters for Persons with Limited English Proficiency and for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, PA CODE 221 §§ 101-407 (regulations). These regulations, which went into effect on May 1, 2010, provide the procedures to implement the Court Interpreter Statute (Interpreter Statute). The regulations expand certain definitions that bear directly on arrest and adjudication of persons who are of Limited English Proficiency (LEP), deaf or hard of hearing.

Pennsylvania enacted the Interpreter Statute, 42 Pa.C.S. §4401 et seq., to secure the rights of persons who are of LEP and those persons who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand and communicate effectively when they appear in court or are involved in judicial proceedings. The Interpreter Statute provides for the appointment, certification, and use of interpreters to assist in judicial proceedings for individuals with LEP or who are deaf or hard of hearing.  42 Pa.C.S. § 4401.


Regulations regarding interpreters now apply to practically any judicial proceeding in which domestic violence survivors may be involved. The Interpreter Statute defines “judicial proceedings” as actions, appeals or proceedings in any court of this Commonwealth.  42 Pa.C.S. § 4402. According to the regulations, proceedings heard by justices, judges, magisterial district judges, and appointed judicial officers such as arbitrators, masters, and others, are now included in the definition of judicial proceedings. 204 PA CODE 221 § 102(j).


Neither Protection From Abuse (PFA) plaintiffs nor defendants may be charged the costs for a court interpreter, according to the regulations. Under the Interpreter Statute, a “principal party in interest” is a party in a criminal or juvenile proceeding. The regulations specify that a principal party in interest means a person involved in a judicial proceeding who is a plaintiff or defendant in a PFA proceeding.  PA CODE 221 § 102(o).  Because interpreter costs for a principal party in interest are the responsibility of the county, neither a PFA plaintiff nor defendant can be charged the costs for a court interpreter.  PA CODE 221 §§ 107 and 108.


The Interpreter Statute provides that an interpreter shall not be permitted or compelled to testify in any judicial proceeding as to any interpreted statement made by the person for whom he or she is interpreting when that person is engaged in a confidential communication. Although the statute does not specifically mention domestic violence advocates, the regulations reference confidential communications to domestic violence counselors/advocates as provided by 23 Pa.C.S. § 6116.  PA CODE 221 § 103.


The regulations specify who may notify the court of the need for an interpreter. In order to have an interpreter appointed for a litigant, either the principal party in interest or his or her attorney must notify the judge, court administrator, or the court’s designee that the litigant or a witness is of LEP, deaf or hard of hearing.  204 PA CODE 221 §§ 201(a) (1) and 201(a) (2).   The Commonwealth shall give notice if a direct victim is of LEP, deaf or hard of hearing.  204 PA CODE 221 § 201(a)(3).  In addition to the above stated persons, anyone with knowledge of a principal party in interest, witness or direct victim’s need for an interpreter may give notice.  204 PA CODE 221 § 201(a)(4).

Because details about what spoken or signed languages a litigant uses are important to providing the correct interpreter services, the regulations enumerate the required information. Normally, notice for an interpreter should be given in writing on the form provided by the court administrator.  However, if it is not practical to give written notice, verbal notice is acceptable. In either instance, the notice must include the party name, case identifying information, the language spoken, and country of origin of the person who is of LEP.  204 PA CODE 221 § 201(b)(2)(i)(ii).   The notice for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing shall include the type of sign language or method of communication used and describe any educational, physical, mental, or other particular condition which may limit the person’s ability to communicate. 204 PA CODE 221 § 201(b)(2)(iii).  The notice form for civil and family law cases can be found at

Even when an interpreter has not been requested, the judge may determine that the principal party in interest, witness or direct victim is in need of an interpreter and notify the court administrator. 204 PA CODE 221 § 202(b). When the court receives notice of the request for an interpreter, the judge must determine whether there is a need for the interpreter.  If the judge requires additional information in order to make this determination, he or she can request any additional filings from the parties or conduct any other proceedings necessary. 204 PA CODE 221 § 202(a).


A person who is deaf is to be provided an interpreter upon arrest and prior to interrogation: “the arresting officer shall make available to the person who is deaf an interpreter who shall be present with the person who is deaf throughout the interrogation.”  42 Pa.C.S. § 4434. Other than for persons who are deaf, neither the Interpreter Statute nor the regulations specify at what time during a proceeding the interpreter shall be appointed.
These regulations also provide for the certification requirements for court interpreters (sections 301 et seq.), disciplinary procedures for court interpreters (204 PA CODE 221 §§ 401 et seq.), and other court interpreter procedures.

  • The 2007 U.S. Census records that almost 14% of Pennsylvania residents indicate that they speak English “not well” and 4% “not at all.” Nearly one in ten Pennsylvania residents speaks a language other than English at home.
  • The most common demand for interpreters is for interpreters of Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, Arabic and sign language, however more than 50 languages are spoken throughout Pennsylvania.
  • More information about the Court Interpreter Statute and Regulations can be found on the website of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts at

AOPC regularly updates its roster of court interpreters from across the state at

If you would like to learn more about this topic or if you have resources to offer, please contact us.

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