Changes to the court rules on interpreters and translators

By Jessica Taylor, Senior Staff Attorney at Iowa Legal Aid and a member of the Court Interpreter Policies Advisory Committee.

Iowa Code §622A sets forth the requirement for interpreters to assist parties or witnesses to legal proceedings who are not able to speak or understand English. The statute directs the Iowa Supreme Court to promulgate rules governing the qualifications and compensation of court interpreters. Iowa Code §622A.7.

Chapter 47 of the Iowa Court Rules was adopted in 2004. The Court Interpreter Policies Advisory Committee recommended changes to Chapter 47 in 2013. After two public comment periods, the Supreme Court approved revisions to the rules in December 2014. The Court, in its order, recognized the time and attention of judges, attorneys, interpreters, and court personnel that will be required to implement the rules. As such, the New Iowa Court Rules on Interpreters and Translators will become effective July 1, 2015.

In addition to Chapter 47, the Court also adopted the proposed changes to Chapter 48, Code of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters and Translators. The new rules will increase access to justice for limited English proficient (LEP) parties and witnesses, and to improve the management and appointment of interpreters in the courts.

Some of the key changes are as follows:

Definition of a “legal proceeding” (47.1). All court proceedings, a deposition or attorney-client communication conducted in preparation for a court proceeding, and any settlement negotiation in an existing court case.

Definition of a “reasonably available interpreter” (47.1). The current and new rules require the courts to appoint the highest classified interpreter who is reasonably available. Because the current rules do not define “reasonably available,” courts in some counties have rarely appointed certified interpreters because there are no certified interpreters who reside in or near the county. To address this concern, the new rule defines a reasonably available interpreter as one who is available and resides within 150 miles of the location where the proceedings will occur. Some exceptions apply under Rule 47.3(6), including proceedings in front of a magistrate, when an interpreter is needed on short notice, or when an interpreter is needed for a pretrial proceeding in a civil case.

Minimum qualifications for court interpreters (47.2(1)) and waiver of the minimum qualifications (47.2(2)). Current minimum qualifications include age 18 and a high school education. New qualifications are age 21 and 48 credit hours of college. These two can be waived only for oral language interpreters and only in extraordinary circumstances. (Our courts cannot waive minimum requirements for a sign language interpreter.) When exercising a waiver, however, the court may not appoint a person under age 18 or one with less than a high school degree or equivalent.

Scheduling and appointing a court interpreter (47.3(3)). When the court learns an interpreter will be needed, court personnel will select and schedule an interpreter by applying the priorities in these rules, and this responsibility may not be delegated to an attorney or party in the case.

Number of court interpreters for a court hearing (47.3(12)). The new rules require the appointment of a second interpreter if the proceeding is expected to be more than four hours. Additionally a separate interpreter must be appointed for each LEP party when the parties have adverse interests, unless the parties waive appointment of separate interpreters.

Persons prohibited from appointment as a court interpreter (47.3(10)). The Court cannot appoint a friend or family member of any of the parties, nor can the court appoint anyone involved in the proceeding. This includes domestic abuse advocate, attorney, CASA, juvenile court officer, law enforcement officer, or social worker.

Written translations of court-related materials (47.13). The current rules provide no guidance on managing written translations. New Rule 47.13 defines court-related materials, requires a written Application for Appointment of a Translator, requires the use of a certified translator, and provides guidance on compensation for written translations.

New continuing education requirement (47.7). Starting in 2016, interpreters on the Roster must obtain at least six hours of continuing education each calendar year, one of which must be in the area of ethics.

New disciplinary process (47.10). Similar to the disciplinary process for attorneys, complaints must be in writing and filed with the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). If not resolved by the OPR, the complaint will be assigned to the Chair of the Language Access in the Courts Advisory Committee, who will appoint a panel of three advisory committee members to consider the complaint and conduct a hearing, if necessary.

The following upcoming training sessions on the new rules are planned:

The following upcoming training sessions on the new rules are planned:

  • Court Interpreter Policies Advisory Committee Member Judge Karen Romano and John Goerdt, Deputy State Court Administrator, will be doing a one-hour CLE program at the Judges’ Conference on June 16 from 4:00-5:00 p.m.
  • John Goerdt will also hold a one-hour CLE program at the Magistrates’ Conference on June 30 from 9:30-10:30 a.m.; a one-hour CLE program for public defenders (date to be determined); and a one-hour training program at the Iowa Interpreters and Translators Association (IITA) conference on June 20.
  • Dave Ewert (OPR) and John Goerdt will also be presenting via webinar to court staff and judges June 17, 18, 23 and 24. These webinars will be made available to judges and court staff via their internal website.


Iowa Legal Aid provides free legal assistance to low-income Iowans in all 99 counties with civil legal problems involving basic necessities and safety. Information about access to the courts for persons with limited English proficiency and other civil legal issues is available on Iowa Legal Aid’s websites, and is a free, members only site that provides a comprehensive collection of information on legal topics, upcoming events including continuing legal education opportunities, and resources on civil law practice for members of Iowa’s justice community.