The Volunteer Interpreters Program (VIP) was created in 1994 to address the growing need for language interpretation in civil court cases in Fairfax, Virginia. Since its inception, the program has expanded and now provides interpretation and translation for all programs and services provided in the courthouse as well as the Court’s programs in other geographically located facilities. The VIP was a pioneer program in Fairfax County and other enterprises have used it as a model to create similar programs to serve their communities.
The Volunteer Interpreters’ Code of Ethics requires them to provide complete and accurate interpretation without altering, omitting or adding anything to the original statement or document. They accurately and completely represent their training, certifications and pertinent experience and are impartial and unbiased. As a part of their Code, they also refrain from conduct that may even give the appearance of bias, disclose any real or perceived conflict of interest and conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the dignity of the court. They maintain the confidentiality of all parties and information, limit themselves to interpreting or translating and do not give legal advice or their personal opinions.
While Spanish is the primary language provided, the program also provides interpretation in Korean, Portuguese, French, Arabic and Italian. The VIP consists of 30 volunteers and one volunteer coordinator. The entire Court and Court Services process is expedited by having interpreters available for Court hearings and for scheduled and walk-in clients. The VIP has reduced the number of Court hearings, which have to be continued due to a lack of interpreters. Services can be provided immediately for walk-in clients seeking service without having to schedule appointments with a paid interpreter.
The Court process is confusing and intimidating for most citizens. It is especially confusing for those citizens who do not have a high proficiency in English and who come from a culture that is very different from ours. The volunteers work along side the Court Services staff to identify the issues for each of the clients, determine the appropriate course of action and the complete the necessary paperwork for the Court process. When an interpreter is present, the client does not have to struggle with making him or herself understood. They are also able to communicate their issues calmly and receive the appropriate services.
When clients are treated with respect and consideration and have their issues addressed regardless of their language and culture, they begin to trust the justice system. They also learn that they are entitled to the protections and services of the justice system. Prior to VIP, Court staff relied on friends and relatives of defendants and victims to provide interpretation services. The VIP has promoted and improved the services provided by the County to the residents of diverse cultures while also achieving the objective of giving a clear understanding of the Court system and legal procedures.