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Telephone Interpreting Program: Access to Justice for All

Telephone Interpreting Program

The Telephone Interpreting Program provides remote interpretation during court proceedings.

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In a federal courtroom, a witness, who only speaks Foochow, provides testimony in a case where no one in the room speaks that language. In a preliminary hearing, a Spanish-speaking defendant responds to questions from the judge. In both instances, an interpreter bridging the language gap for the participants is miles away at the other end of a telephone.

The Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) provides remote interpretation for court proceedings where certified or highly qualified court interpreters are not reasonably available locally. From 2001-2013, fifty-six U.S. district courts in 102 locations used TIP for approximately 42,000 events, saving an estimated $14 million for the Judiciary in travel and contract costs. Since 2009, the average number of events per year has been approximately 3,900, for an estimated yearly savings of over $1.5 million.

In 1989, the Judicial Conference approved a pilot program to provide remote simultaneous and consecutive telephone interpreting in 1989, with initial funding in 1990. In 1994, the Conference approved the TIP program for short, pretrial proceedings, such as pretrial hearings, initial appearances, arraignments, and probation and pretrial services interviews.

TIP significantly increases the likelihood that the courts will use certified or highly qualified interpreters, improving the administration of justice. A staff court interpreter at one of the 11 district courts currently providing TIP services can be scheduled online.

“We’re not spending time calling around, trying to find people, to get referrals,” said Magistrate Judge David Bernthal in the Central District of Illinois. “It gives us great flexibility, while still protecting the individual who does not speak English.”

With a TIP interpreter only a telephone call away, courts save on travel costs. Staff court interpreters might interpret an event in Texas in the morning, and another one that afternoon in Maine. Money also is saved when courts can use TIP staff interpreters and don’t need to contract for interpreters outside of the area.

TIP works best for short proceedings where certified or otherwise qualified court interpreters are not locally available. The set-up is simple. A two-line telephone system and some specialized equipment is all that is needed for simultaneous telephone interpreting services.

TIP is proving cost-effective for the Judiciary, which is important when budgets are tight and cost-containment is essential. But it also ensures defendants in court proceedings initiated by the United States receive quality interpreting services from certified and highly qualified interpreters.

Current TIP Provider Courts

Central District of California
Southern District of California
District of Columbia
Southern District of Florida
Northern District of Illinois
District of New Jersey
District of New Mexico
Southern District of New York
District of Nebraska
District of Puerto Rico
District of Rhode Island

Related Topics: Court Administration, District Courts