At least two committees are now examining the problems presented by language interpretation and court proceedings. Current Alaska Administrative Rules of Court place responsibility for obtaining interpreters on the parties to a case. However, the Advisory Committee on Fairness and Access established by the Alaska Supreme Court in December 1995 is looking at the interpreter issue through the work of its Subcommittee on Language and Culture. The subcommittee is assembling information through research and public hearings in response to the following charge: How does a person's primary language and cultural identity affect the person's experience with the courts? The subcommittee contains representatives from the Alaska Court System, the Alaska Public Defender, the Office of Employment and Equal Opportunity, Catholic Social Services, the Native American Rights Fund, and the community. It is anticipated that a final report with recommendations will be completed in autumn 1997.
A second committee, established through the efforts of federal court personnel, is also examining the interpreter situation in Alaska and initiating a project to address interpreter certification needs. The project is seeking grant funding initially to evaluate the skill and training of those already interpreting in Alaska courts. This committee includes representatives from U.S. District Court, U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, the U.S. Marshal, the Alaska Office of the Public Defender, the Alaska District Attorney, the Federal Public Defender, the Department of Languages at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Federal statutes require qualified interpreters in the simultaneous mode for any party to federal judicial proceedings and in the consecutive mode for witnesses. (In simultaneous mode the interpreter renders the interpretation continuously at the same time as the speaker. In consecutive mode the interpreter renders statements intermittently when the speaker completes a statement and pauses.) The federal court system has a national program for certification of court interpreters, which was established under the Court Interpreter's Act of 1978 and the Court Interpreter Amendment Act of 1988. The program currently certifies interpreters in Spanish, Haitian Creole and Navajo. In the absence of federally certified interpreters the federal courts may use state certified interpreters or those otherwise qualified. At the present time, no federally certified interpreters are available in Alaska. The state itself has no system for certifying interpreters or evaluating the competency of those who appear as interpreters in state courts. The federal system here relies upon telephonic arrangements or brings in interpreters from other states.