Language Access

Learn how the North Carolina Judicial Branch accommodates people with language needs
Can I get an interpreter for a court case?

Yes. The courts provide interpreters at no cost to you for all civil and criminal court appearances in front of a judge, magistrate, or clerk of court. This includes criminal cases, traffic tickets, evictions, foreclosures, divorce, child support, child custody, guardianship, disputes about money, and others.

Court interpreters are also provided for child custody mediation, permanency mediation, and child planning conferences. The court will provide you an interpreter for court whether you have an attorney for your case or not. Interpreters are also provided for conversations between prosecutors and victims or witnesses, conversations between court-appointed attorneys and their clients, and conversations between Guardian ad Litem Program attorneys and the parties involved in the case.

When will the courts not provide interpreters?

The state does not cover the cost of an interpreter for:

  • Communication between attorneys hired by the client (not court-appointed) and clients, except while a judge is hearing the case.
  • Communication between Legal Aid attorneys or other non-profit attorneys and clients, except while a judge is hearing the case.
  • Communication between people with a court case and Department of Social Services attorneys or Child Support Enforcement agents.
  • Probation and parole functions.
  • Law enforcement (police) functions.
  • Criminal court mediations.
  • Private mediations and arbitrations.
Who can get a court interpreter?

The courts will provide an interpreter in court for a “party in interest” who speaks a language other than English as a primary language and has a limited ability to read, speak, or understand English. You are a “party in interest” if you are:

  • The person who filed the lawsuit (the “plaintiff”), the person being sued, or the person charged in a criminal case (the “defendant”)
  • A victim in a criminal case
  • A witness in any type of case
  • A parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a minor party
  • A legal guardian or custodian of an adult party
Do I have to pay for the interpreter provided by the state?

No. Court interpreters are provided at no cost to the parties.

What is the court interpreter’s role?

The interpreter will interpret everything you say into English and will interpret everything said in court in English into your language. The interpreter will interpret any communication between you and the judge, and any brief communication you need to have with your attorney during the hearing before the judge. The interpreter will not share any of the information outside of the court. The interpreter will not give legal advice or explain what is happening in court. If you have questions about what is happening, you should ask your attorney or the judge. The interpreter will interpret your questions for your attorney or the judge, but cannot answer questions for you.

If I speak some English, can I still get an interpreter?

Yes, if your ability to speak or understand English is limited.

What languages are available?

The Office of Language Access Services will find an interpreter for any language necessary so that a party in interest can fully and fairly participate in court. Many larger counties have Spanish court interpreters on staff. With advance notice, interpreters can be scheduled for many other languages. If you do not request the interpreter in advance, you still have a right to an interpreter in court, but your court date may be delayed.

Can a family member or friend interpret for me in court?

No, only authorized court interpreters can interpret in court. Family members or friends cannot interpret your testimony for the judge and cannot interpret the court proceedings for you.

How can I request an interpreter in advance?

If you have an attorney, your attorney can request an interpreter for you. If you do not have an attorney, you can request an interpreter yourself by completing the request form. Requests should be submitted by email at least 10 business days before your court date. You must email your request to your county’s Language Access Coordinator (LAC). The email address for your LAC will be County.Interpreter@nccourts.org. For example, the Wake County LAC’s email would be Wake.Interpreter@nccourts.org. If you have difficulty filling out the form due to language, you can email the county LAC or ask a clerk of court in your county for help.

What if I am in court and need an interpreter, but did not request one in advance?

If you need an interpreter, you can tell the judge when your case is called, or you can tell the courtroom clerk before your case is called. Depending on availability, an interpreter may or may not be available for you that day. If a qualified court interpreter is not available, your case will generally be “continued,” or postponed until another day.

Can an interpreter help me talk to court staff, such as the clerk of court, outside the courtroom?

Yes. Phone interpreting services are available to help you talk to court staff. Tell the staff person that you need an interpreter and they will arrange for an interpreter to assist you by phone.

How should I work with an interpreter?
  • Do not expect the interpreter to listen to more than one person at a time. Wait for the interpreter to finish interpreting before you respond.
  • Speak directly to the person asking the question or speaking to you, not to the court interpreter.
  • Speak clearly and at a moderate pace, and remember to pause between complete thoughts to allow the interpreter to interpret. Be aware of the court interpreter’s hand signals to slow down or to stop talking so that he can interpret what you said.  Speaking in court is often stressful and may cause you to speak quickly, so make an effort to slow down.
  • Remember that the judge will only know what you are saying if the interpreter has the opportunity to interpret it.
  • If you choose to use an interpreter, you must testify entirely in your non-English language. You cannot testify partly in English and partly through an interpreter, even if you can speak and understand some English.
Can the other party object to a request for an interpreter?

No. Judges are instructed to always make sure that a qualified court interpreter is provided for anyone who requests an interpreter.

What should I do if I have concerns about the interpreter in court?

If you have an attorney, tell your attorney so he or she can address your concerns with the judge, if necessary. If you do not have an attorney, tell the judge your concerns. You can also file a complaint after court. See below for information about filing a complaint.

Can I get court forms or orders in another language?

Many official court forms are currently available in Spanish and Vietnamese. If you were given a court form in English, you can search for the bilingual version online by using the form number (beginning with AOC) or English title of the form, and choosing Spanish or Vietnamese.

Can an interpreter read forms or orders to me?

If you are in court on your court date, an interpreter can “sight translate,” or read court forms to you in your language. The court interpreter cannot answer questions you have about court forms. The courts do not provide interpreters to read forms you receive in the mail. The interpreter can interpret a judge’s verbal order while in court. You should make sure to ask the judge about anything you do not understand while you are in court. The courts do not provide translations of written orders entered after your court date.

What if I was denied an interpreter?
  • You should speak up and let the judge know that you need an interpreter. If you are able to do so, explain what your needs are.
  • If you are denied an interpreter, you can file a complaint with the Language Access Officer.
How can I find a private interpreter or translator?

If you need interpretation or translation that is not provided by the courts, you can hire your own interpreter or translator. You can find a list of certified Spanish language court interpreters and their contact information. For other languages, you can contact the Office of Language Access Services at (910) 890-1407 or OLAS@nccourts.org.

Who can I contact with questions or complaints?

For general questions about Language Access, contact the Office of Language Access Services at (910) 890-1407 or OLAS@nccourts.org. You can submit complaints or concerns online here.