I Need an Interpreter
If English is not your main language and you cannot understand or speak in English, you may be a person with limited English proficiency (LEP person). You can ask the court to give you an interpreter so you can meaningfully participate in court proceedings.
Each court in Michigan has a language access plan in place to get you the help you need. If you need an interpreter for the deaf, click here.
What does the court interpreter do?
A court interpreter interprets orally between English and another language during a court proceeding. The court interpreter's job is to give a complete and correct interpretation. He or she should not change, leave out, or add anything to what is said. It is not the interpreter's job to explain what is being said. It is not the interpreter's job to give you legal advice.
Who can get a court interpreter?
You might qualify for a court interpreter if the court decides you need the interpreter to fully participate in a court case. You must also:
be an LEP person,
request an interpreter or have someone request one for you, and
be either a witness, a party, or a person with a significant interest in the court case or proceeding.
When can I get language help outside the courtroom?
As an LEP person you might also need language help for events outside the courtroom. Examples of when you might need language help are:
- During security screening at the courthouse entrance
- While talking with someone at the court clerk’s office in person, or on the phone
- During friend of the court intake, conciliation, interviews, or mediation
- During probation intake, drug-alcohol screens, or on reporting days
Every Michigan court decides when services outside the courtroom are available. You can find this information in your court’s language access plan, or you can ask the language access coordinator to find out what’s covered. Language access plans are available on the court’s website or at the court. Ask a court employee to direct you to the court’s language access coordinator.
What other language help can I get?
Every Michigan court has its own language access resources. The type of help you get depends on your needs and the resources available. These are examples of language help that might be available:
- “I speak” cards at the court
- Interpreter services by telephone
- Bi- or multi-lingual court staff
- Court forms and documents translated in different languages
How do I ask for an interpreter?
File a Request for Interpreter form
If you have a court hearing coming up, you can ask for an interpreter before it happens. Fill out a Request and Order for Interpreter form and mail or deliver it in person to the court. The Request is available in Arabic, simplified Chinese, English, Korean, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. You can also use Michigan Legal Help's Automated Online Request for Interpreter Form interview to create a completed form in English. You should mail or deliver your Request for Interpreter as early as possible so the court can consider it and appoint an interpreter.
Go to the court clerk’s office
You can also ask the court clerk in person for an interpreter. You should do this before your court proceeding, if possible, so the court has time to find an interpreter in your language. The court has “I Speak” cards available. Point to your language on the card. If the court doesn’t have the Request for Interpreter form in your language, a member of the court staff will help you complete the English form.
Ask for an interpreter during your hearing
You can also ask for an interpreter in the courtroom. But, it will be easier for the court to find an interpreter who speaks your language if you file your request ahead of time.
Who will the court interpreter be?
The court will appoint a certified or qualified court interpreter if possible. These are people who have met certain testing requirements and are registered with the State Court Administrative Office.
If no certified or qualified interpreter is available, the court may appoint someone else to interpret. The court will ask the person questions to decide if they can communicate well enough between you and the court.
The court will usually not appoint someone who could have a conflict of interest. Examples of someone who could have a conflict of interest are
friends or family members of someone involved in the case, someone who is paid by someone involved in the case, potential witnesses, or police officers.
What if the court denies my Request for Interpreter?
You can file a review of your request for an interpreter if it was denied. Fill out a Review of Request for Interpreter and Order form and mail or deliver it in person to the court. The Request is available in Arabic, simplified Chinese, English, Korean, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. You can also use Michigan Legal Help's Automated Online, Review of Request for Interpreter interview to create a completed form in English. File your completed form with the court clerk.
Will I have to pay for the court interpreter?
The court will pay the cost of the court interpreter, but at the end of the case the court may order you (if you are a party in the case) to pay the court back if:
- your household income is more than 125% of the federal poverty level and
- the court decides that having you pay the cost will not make it difficult for you to take part in your case.
Can I hire my own interpreter for the hearing or trial?
If the interpreter you hire is not a “certified” interpreter, the judge, referee, or magistrate will ask questions to make sure the interpreter can reasonably do the job of communicating between you and the court, and does not have any personal interest in the case (a conflict).
After these questions, the court may decide to appoint a different interpreter. If this happens, you can still have the interpreter you hire. But the court will hire a separate interpreter.
How Can I Learn More?
Each Michigan court has a language access plan with details about resources for people with limited English proficiency. You can find the court’s plan on its website or at the court.